A woman looks worried.
A woman looks worried.
A woman looks worried.

Early Cancer Warning Signs: 5 Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore

Today, people are living longer than ever after a cancer diagnosis due to improved cancer screenings. Routine screenings catch diseases earlier, when they are more straightforward to treat.

One symptom you shouldn't ignore: Unexplained weight loss

Noticing one of the following symptoms doesn’t mean you have cancer. But to be safe, Johns Hopkins surgical oncologist Nita Ahuja, M.D., asks you not to ignore these five symptoms. They’re important enough to tell your doctor about.

  1. When you lose weight for no reason, call your doctor. A loss of 10 pounds or more could be nothing to worry about. However, in rare cases, it may be the first sign of cancer.

  2. This isn’t fatigue similar to how you feel after a long day of work or play. The extreme fatigue that doesn’t get better with rest can be an early sign of cancer.

    Cancer uses your body’s nutrients to grow and advance, so those nutrients are no longer replenishing your body. This “nutrient theft” can make you feel extremely tired.

    There are lots of underlying causes of fatigue, many of them not cancer-related. If your symptoms are severe enough to affect your quality of life, call your doctor.

  3. Fever can be a common symptom of routine colds and the flu. Often, it’s nothing to worry about.

    Certain characteristics of fever can foretell a possible cancer connection. You should pay particular attention if:

    • A fever happens mostly at night.
    • You have no other signs of infection.
    • You experience night sweats.
  4. Pain is another symptom that can be caused by a multitude of things, many of them routine, but it can also hint at an underlying disease.

    Cancer can cause pain in different ways, including:

    • A mass or tumor pushing on other areas of your body
    • The chemicals a cancer releases
    • Metastasis, or spreading from where a cancer started

    If you’re experiencing pain that doesn’t go away — and you’re not sure where it came from — your doctor can help with the best next steps.

  5. Our skin is the largest organ of our body and can be a window into our overall health. Jaundice (yellowing of eyes or fingertips) is one symptom that could suggest a possible infection. Whether the cause is cancer or a more routine infection, you should get it checked out.

    Changes in moles can also be cause for concern. Call your doctor if a mole:

    • Is asymmetrical, or has jagged edges
    • Has funny or irregular borders
    • Changes color or gets darker
    • Is large or growing

    These aren’t the only ways your body could react to an early cancer. Check out the symptoms Johns Hopkins gastroenterologist Anne Marie Lennon, M.D., Ph.D., wants you to be extra cautious about.

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Warning Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore

Common symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, bowel changes or extreme fatigue may be triggered by more than just stress. Geneticist Kala Visvanathan, M.B.B.S., M.H.S., delves into how these symptoms might indicate an underlying condition and shares recent breakthroughs in cancer detection during a panel discussion at A Woman’s Journey — Baltimore, a daylong women’s health event in November.


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