In a previous post (Understanding Cancer Series: What are the Signs and Symptoms of Cancer? Part 1), I have given reasons why cancers may present very early or late in the course of the disease. We also know that the signs or symptoms vary depending on the location of the tumor.
There are clues, however, that should alert a patient to consult a physician. NOTE: THESE SIGNS OR SYMPTOMS ARE NOT SPECIFIC TO CANCER. THEY CAN BE FOUND IN SITUATIONS OTHER THAN CANCER BUT SHOULD, NEVERTHELESS ALERT THE PATIENT TO SEE A DOCTOR.
Remember the acronym CAUTIONUS which means the following
- CHANGE IN BOWEL OR BLADDER HABITS. A tumor may obstruct the large intestines and cause the patient to become constipated. Patients often describe conditions like pencil-like stools or very small stools similar to goat-stools (marble or quail egg sized stools). Sometimes, constipation can be replaced by periods of diarrhea then revert back to constipation again after the diarrhea has resolved. Any changes in bowel habits, especially if prolonged or associated with weight loss or lack of appetite should prompt consultation
- Changes in urine, especially bleeding or changes in color especially if accompanied by back pain should prompt consultation.
- A SORE THAT DOES NOT HEAL. A sore in the mouth or on the skin, even if not painful, should prompt consultation.
- UNUSUAL BLEEDING OR DISCHARGE. Bleeding can happen in any part of the body such as from the nose, the lungs (blood-tinged phlegm or significant amounts of blood in the phlegm), vomiting of blood or presence of black feces, blood-tinged feces or profuse bleeding, prolonged menses, re-appearance of menstruation after menopause, inter-menstrual bleeding, blood in the urine, bruises on the skin especially in the absence of trauma, bleeding or discharge from the nipples.
- THICKENING OR LUMP IN THE BREAST OR ELSEWHERE. Tumors generally form masses that can be felt if they are on or near the external surface of the body. More caution if the mass is very hard.
- INDIGESTION OR DIFFICULTY IN SWALLOWING. Patients may experience difficulty in swallowing solids initially then liquids if there is a mass in the esophagus. Symptoms may also be as non-specific as indigestion, bloatedness or ulcer-like pain.
- OBVIOUS CHANGE IN A WART OR MOLE. Changes in the color, size, consistency, sudden presence of itchiness of moles can signal the need for consultation especially for fair-skinned people and if on sun-exposed areas of the body.
- NAGGING COUGH OR HOARSENESS. Cough occurs in all ages and is one of the problems many of us often encounter. However, if the cough is prolonged or associated with weight loss, absence of fever, blood in the phlegm may signal the patient to seek consultation. Suspicion is heightened if the patient has a significant smoking history or exposure to second hand smoke.
- UNEXPLAINED ANEMIA. This may be an early manifestation of cancer or something else
- SUDDEN UNEXPLAINED WEIGHT LOSS. Weight loss that is due to intentionally less food intake does not count. However, weight loss despite adequate food intake or weight loss associated with unexplained loss of appetite should signal some concern.