Signs and Symptoms of Cancer Disease

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Information on Signs and Symptoms of Cancer Disease

It is essential to understand that cancer is not one disease, but hundreds of different diseases which share in common only one feature, unregulated cell growth. Various cancers are different in terms of cause, diagnosis and treatment. Most experts feel it is highly unlikely that there will ever be a single cure for all cancers; rather, the war against cancer will likely be fought continually on many fronts.

Warning signals:
Most of us cannot easily remember the seven warning signs of cancer. However, we can and should remember that any persistent (more than two weeks) change in body appearance or function is cause for concern, concern which should prompt an immediate visit to a doctor. Usually, it is not cancer, but various studies indicate that most of us wait a foolishly long period of months before checking on changes that are obviously abnormal. Sometimes part of the rationalization for this is the idea that we can wait for our routine yearly physical, which then keeps getting postponed. An immediate investigation of symptoms has a much greater pay-off than routine checkups. The latter should never be considered a substitute for the former.

The following are some common and important warning signs:

(a) Skin changes: Any significant new growth or change in a previous skin growth or marking should be investigated, by a dermatologist (skin specialist), if a satisfactory explanation is not given by your usual source of medical care. And do not forget the "skin" inside your mouth.

(b) Change in bowel habits: This is a tough one because most of us experience occasional upsets in bowel habits, the vast majority of which are not due to cancer. However, any persistent change, more than two weeks, should be reported to your physician. It is your doctor's responsibility, not yours, to decide whether it is worth further study.

(c) Abnormal bleeding or discharge: Any bloody material that is coughed up or vomitted is clearly abnormal, as is any vaginal bleeding in a post-menopausal woman or any discharge (bloody or otherwise) from the breast. More confusing is minimal bleeding from the rectum (often due to hemorrhoids) or in the urine (often due to infection). Also confusing is unusual bleeding in a woman still menstruating. Again, the only safe advice is to report such changes to your physician and make the matter his responsibility.

(d) Lumps and bumps: Most important is a lump found in the breast. Other lumps, however, should not be ignored even though most turn out not to be cancer, including 80% of all breast lumps.

(e) Coughing and hoarseness: These two common complaints usually are secondary to inflammation of the vocal cords. However, hoarseness of more than two weeks duration may be a very useful warning sign of cancer in the voice box. Unfortunately, coughing is not a useful early warning symptom of lung cancer.

Again, the above list is only partial. The bottom-line rule is always this: any persistent change in appearance or function of any parts of your body should be reported to your physician.


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