You hear the word ‘Cancer’ commonly when one talks about killer diseases. The word itself indicates a condition in which cell growth happens at an uncontrolled and abnormal rate.
The word ‘Cancer’, in itself, only says that there is a growth that threatens to spread to other parts of the body. You have to specify where the cancerous growth is located. Further, the stage of the growth, when it’s discovered, and the seriousness of each case – all these details matter. They govern the chances of survival and recovery of cancer victims.
You can see why it’s important to identify a cancerous tumour as early as possible. It helps to decide whether the tumour is harmful or not, and the line of treatment to be undertaken. When tumours are detected early and addressed immediately, their growth can be contained.
As soon as an uncontrolled growth is suspected, a spectrum of tests is conducted to check if the tumour is cancerous or benign. Benign tumours do not have the potential to spread to other parts of the body.
Oftentimes, a biopsy is necessary to confirm the presence of cancer.
Cancer caused by the use of tobacco is specifically worth mentioning. More than 20% of cancer cases are caused by tobacco. Other reasons are obesity, nutritional deficiency, a sedentary lifestyle, and consumption of alcohol.
Cancer indicators are fairly innocuous at first. Be warned that similar symptoms can be observed among other common ailments too.
Here are some of the simplest cancer symptoms common to both men and women:
- Excessive, persistent cough: It is a condition that warrants checking for pneumonia and neck cancer.
- Blood in the saliva: Usually a sign of bronchitis or sinusitis, this symptom can also indicate cancer of the lung.
- Blood in the stools: This could indicate anything from constipation, ulcers, and hemorrhoids to cancer of the colon or rectal cancer. Colonoscopy is recommended for everyone over the age of 50.
- Variation in bowel movements: Sudden diarrhea, constipation, or thin stools could represent colorectal cancer. An investigation should begin with checking for irritable bowels and infection.
- Variation in urination – pattern, frequency: A stream that slows or stops without your control could have deeper causes.
- Spots, moles, and skin changes: Both men and women should watch out for moles or spots on the skin that appear suddenly. Localized changes in color, texture, or feel of the skin are a common first sign of skin cancer.
- Unexplained pain and tiredness: Weariness and pain that doesn’t go away are a sign of deeper issues.
- Swallowing difficulty: Deeper gastrointestinal issues show up as difficulty in swallowing. Something as simple as a patch in the mouth or soreness is also worth checking.
- Sudden changes in weight: Losing weight abruptly – without any changes in diet or lifestyle – can be a worrisome event. Most often, it signifies that there is a change in the thyroid function. But one might also need to be tested for unexplained growths in the stomach, colon, or pancreas.
There are specific indications that women need to watch out for:
- Bloody or discolored discharge from the nipple: colorless discharge is common as hormonal balance varies with age. But bloody or foul-smelling discharge is a sure indication that medical attention is necessary.
- Lumps in the breast: A breast exam should be done by yourself every month interspersed with a professional gynecologist’s examination every year. Lumps felt in a single breast require immediate attention and a possible MRI.
- Puckering or dimple in the skin: An uneven depression, wrinkle or irregularity in the skin needs further checking. Check for changes in both appearance and feel.
- Sudden change in nipple direction: Nipple(s) may suddenly retract. Or there might be a swelling around the areola, along with pain and breast discomfort. These need to be investigated further.
- Spotting between menstrual cycles: Even if periods are regular, bleeding or spotting noticed between menstrual cycles could be indicative of endometrial cancer.
- Bloating: It is a pretty common symptom and women are naturally more bloated than men. But if it doesn’t go away with minor treatments, persistent bloating can indicate ovarian, uterine, or gastrointestinal cancer.
For men concerned about watching for cancer, some common symptoms to follow-up are:
- Lumps in testicles: A mass or lump felt below the surface of the skin warrants further checking
- Change in urine: Changes in the bladder function could be because of cancer of the prostate gland.
- Erectile dysfunction: The American Cancer Association links pain in urination, premature ejaculation, or difficulty in maintaining an erection with prostate cancer. The incidence is as high as 1 in 9 men.
One cannot say that these symptoms are exclusive to a certain type of cancer, or even of cancer at all. There could be several other conditions causing these symptoms. A selection of methods is available for screening various types of cancer.
Dr. Aparna Sreevatsa, Consultant – Medical Oncology, Oncology | Sahyadri Narayana Multispeciality Hospital, Shimoga