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Warning Signs of Cancer


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What are the warning signs of cancer?

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, claiming about 510,000 lives a year. According to the American Cancer Society, the disease strikes 3 out of 4 families, and one-third of all Americans eventually develop cancer.

Although cancer remains one of our most dreaded and lethal diseases, tremendous gains have been made in treating it. In 1900, cancer survival—defined as living apparently free of the disease 5 years after treatment—was rare. By the 1940’s the odds of surviving cancer had improved to 25 percent. Today, 40 percent of cancer patients are classified as survivors, and the National Cancer Institute maintains that with current treatment, this rate could improve to more than 50 percent with earlier diagnosis.

This critical early diagnosis depends largely on the recognition of specific warning signs. Most early cancers do not produce pain or many of the other signs and symptoms associated with the disease. Instead, the warning sign are often vague and easily misinterpreted, especially by a layperson. For example, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, and general malaise commonly occur in cancer, but these symptoms also characterize many other diseases.

The American Cancer Society lists these 7 classic warning signs of cancer:

  • A change in bowel or bladder habits.
  • A sore that does not heal.
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge.
  • Thickening or lump in the breast or elsewhere.
  • Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing.
  • Obvious changes in a wart or mole.
  • Persistent cough or hoarseness.

What can I do myself?

Regular self-examination for cancer warning signs is a critical component of early cancer diagnosis. Everyone should examine their skin periodically for changes in moles or other cancer warning signs. Women should practice monthly breast self-examination and men should examine their testicles monthly. After the age of 40 or 45, you should test your stool for hidden blood, which can be done at home with a special self-test kit.

When should I see my doctor?

Any warning sign of cancer mandates prompt medical investigation. Regular cancer screening examinations are recommended after certain ages. All women should have periodic Pap smears to screen for cervical or uterine cancer, and after the age of 40, they should have mammography every year or two. Older men should have regular prostate examinations, and after the age of 40 or 45, everyone should be screened for colon or rectal cancers.

Smoking or exposure to environmental pollutants increase the risk of some cancers, and a history of such factors warrants frequent cancer checkups.

Many cancers, including those of the breast, colon, kidney, and ovaries, carry a genetic predisposition. If you have a family history of such cancers, you should be particularly diligent about regular screening examinations, including test to determine whether there is a recurrence or development of a new cancer.

Studies show that the majority of people who detect a cancer warning sign delay seeing a doctor, often for months or even years. Fear and denial provoke such delays, but whatever the motivation, failure to seek prompt treatment can be deadly. Very often, the warning sign turns out to be benign, but if it is cancer, early treatment greatly improves the odds of survival.

 

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Warning Signs of Cancer

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