10 cancer symptoms you could be missing

If something appears unusual and doesn't go away in a couple of weeks, get it checked out. Photo / Getty
If something appears unusual and doesn't go away in a couple of weeks, get it checked out. Photo / Getty

• This is one of NZH Lifestyle's top stories of the year to date.

Most of us think we know the telltale signs of cancer: a lump in the breast, unexplainable tiredness, sudden weight loss... but experts are pointing to lesser known symptoms to watch out for that may lead to earlier detection of the disease.

Professor of medical oncology at Southampton University and lead clinician for Cancer Research UK, Peter Johnson says many early signals are "vague and non-specific".

"It's these that people need to be aware of and report to their doctors. But we're not good at paying attention to our own bodies, to what's normal for us, so we ignore minor symptoms which occasionally can be caused by early cancer," he told the Telegraph.

Clinical oncologist Dr David Bloomfield says in most cases catching the disease in its early stages ensures a cure.

He says it's important to not only be aware of the symptoms noted below, but if something else appears unusual and doesn't go away in a couple of weeks, get it checked out.

Here are 10 symptoms to note that could lead to early cancer detection:

A hoarse or croaky voice

This can be a common component of a cold, but if it persists it should be checked out. The symptom can indicate "an early, curable head or neck cancer such as one of the vocal cords," says Dr Bloomfield.

Heavy night sweats

While the summer heat or the onset of menopause in women could more than likely be the cause of night sweats, it's a symptom that could also be a sign of lymphoma.

Dr Shankara Paneesha, consultant haematologist in Birmingham, told the Telegraph: "People with lymphoma have high metabolisms because lymphoma cells use a lot of energy, so they get severe, drenching night sweats where they need to change their pyjamas and sometimes the bedding."

Persistent heartburn

For many, heartburn is a common issue following a particularly spicy or fatty meal. But if your heartburn lasts more than two to three weeks and requires regular antacid medication it could signal stomach or oesophageal cancer.

Occasionally it can be linked to ovarian or pancreatic cancer.

Middle back pain

For the vast majority, back pain is due to a musculoskeletal issue. But for some it can be a symptom of pancreatic cancer.

Pippa Corrie, consultant and associate lecturer in medical oncology at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust says there is a particular sign to note:

"The classic symptom is pain in the upper abdomen that spreads out across the back," she says.

Situated at the back of the abdomen, as the pancreas grows, it begins to invade nerves which signal back pain.

"While most musculoskeletal back pain will occur in the lower back, that associated with pancreatic cancer is about a hand's breadth above that and may also come with other symptoms, such as people being off their food, tiredness and weight loss."

Post-menopausal bleeding

This can be a sign of endometrial cancer. Dr Bloomfield says any kind of post-menopausal bleeding should be checked with your GP.

Endometrial cancer is also associated with being overweight.

Trouble urinating

As men age, the prostate gland grows. This can increase the need to urinate, especially at night.

Difficulty passing urine or needing to go more frequently could indicate prostate cancer.

Finding it hard to swallow

Trouble swallowing can be an indication of a stroke but occasionally it can be an early symptom of a head and neck cancer such as of the vocal cords, oesophagus, mouth or tongue.

Most commonly found in those who smoke and drink regularly, other symptoms can include pain at the back of the mouth.

Changes in stools

Blood in faeces is a commonly known indication of bowel cancer. But it's also important to note any sudden changes in colour, frequency and pain.

In rare cases it can also be an indicator of ovarian or pancreatic cancer.

A persistent sore

Changes to moles including itching and bleeding are commonly known as symptoms of skin cancer. Other symptoms include small lumps on the skin that continue to grow, and some cases produce an ulcer that won't heal.

Mouth ulcers

The majority of mouth ulcers are from a viral infection, will clear up in three to four days and are notably painful.

An ulcer in the mouth or on the tongue which lasts for three to four weeks and may or may not be painful could indicate cancer.

Also look for white marks on the tongue or thick, white patches. These need to be checked by your GP as they indicate changes to the mouth's lining which could lead to cancer.

- nzherald.co.nz

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