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Cancer Warning Signs

What is cancer and what are its symptoms?   2011-02-09

Cancer is one of the most dreaded illnesses in the developed world and from a non-medical person's point of view a cancer diagnosis is a most terrifying prospect. Treatment methods are constantly improving. However, especially if diagnosed in the early stages, the survival rates for cancer can be quite high.

What is cancer?

Our bodies are composed of cells. In the normal process of our lives, these cells grow, divide, become old, damaged and die to be replaced by new cells. Sometimes however, this process can go wrong, damaged cells do not die when they should and new ones grow when they should not be growing. These unwanted cells may form a mass of tissue called a tumour. Tumours may be non cancerous, known as benign or they can be malignant. Malignant tumours are cancerous and they can spread to other parts of the body. The cancer cells will continue to grow unless they are surgically removed or are treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or any other recognised cancer treatment. Some cancers may disappear with no medical intervention but this is extremely rare.

All cancers are curable if caught early enough. Cancers caught at a later stage may also be curable and even if not, may certainly be treatable. It is safer however, to have the cancer diagnosed at an early stage and it is advisable that we all go to screening tests on a regular basis.

According to the Office for National Statistics, breast, lung, colorectal and prostate cancer were the four most common cancers registered in England in 2008. MyHealthPortal brings you the early warning signs of each of these cancers and some principles for you to remember.

Breast cancer

The following could be early signs of breast cancer:

  • A lump or swelling in the breast

  • A change in the size or shape of a breast or a nipple

  • Dimpling of the skin

  • Discharge from the nipple

  • A rash on a nipple or surrounding area

  • A swelling or lump in your armpit

In most cases the first symptom of breast cancer is a lump in their breast. Most such lumps however are not cancerous but if you do see or feel a lump, you should consult your doctor immediately.

Lung cancer

  • A cough that you can't get rid of

  • Shortness of breath that comes with activity

  • An unexplained pain or ache in your shoulder, back, chest or arm

  • Repeated infections with bronchitis or pneumonia

  • A feeling of hoarseness or that you have to clear your throat very often.

If suffering from any unexplained change in your health or body functions, do not assume that everything is ok. Go to your doctor.Colorectal cancer

The stomach area has room for a tumour to expand without obstructing other bodily functions therefore colorectal cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms in its early stages. When there are symptoms, they may depend on the location and size of the tumour in the bowel but possible symptoms may include:

  • a change in bowel habits

  • blood in the stool

  • diarrhea, constipation or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely

  • stools that are narrower than usual

  • general abdominal discomfort

  • unexplained weight loss

  • feeling very tired

  • vomiting

In any case, whenever you notice any change whatsoever in your bowel habits, seek your doctor's advice.

Prostate cancer

Like with so many other cancers, a man suffering from prostate cancer may not have any symptoms and only a doctor's examination will discover the cancer. However, if there are any symptoms they can include urinary problems such as:

  • Not being able to pass urine

  • Having a hard time starting or stopping the urine flow

  • Needing to urinate often, especially at night

  • Weak flow of urine

  • Urine flow that starts and stops

  • Pain or burning during urination

  • Difficulty having en erection

  • Blood in the urine or semen

  • Frequent pain in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs

Pancreatic cancer

Unfortunately, many cancers such as pancreatic cancer for example, cannot be identified by any symptoms until the tumour is at an advanced stage but you should be aware of your own body and consult your doctor if you feel that you are suffering from any unexplained symptoms such as weight loss, abnormal skin growths, sores or blisters that simply won't go away, lumps, bleeding or discharge. If concerned you should consult a health professional on possible screening tests.

This article brings very general signs and symptoms of the illness and is not meant to be exhaustive. The purpose being to highlight some of the common symptoms of the disease so that anybody who suspects that something might 'not be quite right'  goes and seeks medical help. As they say, 'better safe than sorry'.