Here, we take a look at the 10 symptoms researchers consider to be red flags. While they could be nothing, the researchers say the point is to recognize that they could also be cancer—and to ask your doctor to check your symptoms out.
- Persistent Cough or Hoarseness
Do you have a nagging cough? If it lasts more than three weeks, it’s a sign that something’s wrong. And whether you smoke or not, a cough that doesn’t go away can be a sign of lung cancer. Persistent hoarseness, wheezing, shortness of breath or coughing up blood are also signs to call your doctor right away.
- A Sore That Does Not Heal
If you have a sore that’s hanging on past the three-week mark, you should bring it up with your doctor. “We would have expected our body to have healed itself by now,” says Bartholomew Bevers, “and you should absolutely get that checked out.” That kind of sore could be a sign of carcinoma.
- Unexpected Bleeding
Vaginal bleeding—outside of your normal cycle—could be an early sign of cervical cancer, while bleeding from the rectum could indicate colon cancer, says Bartholomew Bevers.
- Unexplained Weight Loss
Are you dropping pounds without changing your diet or exercise habits? Call your doctor – even if you think they’re pounds you need to lose. Losing ten or more pounds for no known reason can be a sign of pancreatic, stomach, esophageal or lung cancer.
- An Unexplained Lump
Have you recently felt a mass or lump right below your skin? This may be a sign of cancer. Lumps normally show up in the breast, testicles, lymph nodes and soft tissues, like tendons and ligaments. Here’s what to do: Report it to your doctor immediately, especially if you just found it, or it has grown in size.
Changes in your testicles. Have you noticed changes in the size of your testicles, like one or both have gotten bigger? Maybe you’ve found a lump, or your testicles feel swollen or extra heavy. Any of these signs should send you straight to your doctor. Testicular cancer is most common in young and middle-aged men.
- Persistent Difficulty Swallowing
Two cancers may be behind this symptom, including neck and esophageal cancer. “People who see these symptoms will often start to modify their diets, eating softer foods without thinking there could be a more serious issue.”
- Persistent Change in Bowel Habits
When your bowel movements aren’t as easy as they once were or your stool appears larger than normal or somewhat deformed, this could be a sign of colon cancer, says Bartholomew Bevers. “It could be a sign that there is a mass impeding the transit of the stool from the bowel,” she says. “This is a symptom where a person should go to the doctor and schedule a colonoscopy to see if there indeed is a mass.”
- Persistent Change in Bladder Habits
“If there is blood in the urine, that could be indicative of bladder or kidney cancer—but more commonly this is a sign of a urinary tract infection,” says Bartholomew Bevers. Check for an infection first, then pursue other treatment options.
- Persistent Unexplained Pain
“Most pain is not a sign of cancer, but persistent pain must be checked out,” says Bartholomew Bevers. “If you have persistent headaches, for example, you likely don’t have brain cancer—but it is still something that must be looked into. Persistent pain in the chest could be a sign of lung cancer. And pain in your abdomen could be ovarian cancer.”
- Skin changes
Changes in your skin. If you work long hours outside or have a history of blistering sun burns, check your skin more closely. What you think are signs of hard work might actually be skin cancer. Look for unusual bleeding, scaling or sores that do not heal. Other signs include warts as well as moles and freckles that change in color, size or shape. Bottom line: If you’ve got a strange spot on your skin, call your dermatologist.
Changes in your mouth. If you smoke, chew, dip or spit tobacco, you need to pay close attention to changes inside your mouth. White patches inside your mouth or white patches on your tongue may be pre-cancers. Left untreated, these areas can turn into oral cancer. Sores, unexplained bleeding, numbness or tenderness in the area around your mouth – like your tongue, lips and cheeks – should tell you that it’s time for a check-up.
Remember, having one or more of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have cancer. But if they’re persistent, you need to go in for a checkup.