Cancer is always a “hot topic” in the medical realm. Cancer research and cancer screening are constantly being performed. Even at your regular doctor or physical therapy appointments, signs of cancer are being assessed. So what are some of these signs/symptoms and what is your risk of developing cancer?
Cancer is not always easy to diagnose because every type of cancer can present a bit differently. Some cancers, such as pancreatic cancer, don’t cause pain or discomfort until they are in a more advanced stage, which makes them harder to detect and treat. Other cancers have more obvious and noticeable presentations, such as skin cancer, which allows for earlier detection and treatment, resulting in more positive outcomes.
According to the American Cancer Society, some general cancer signs and symptoms include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Skin changes (darkening, reddening, yellowing, itching, etc.).
These symptoms do not necessarily mean that you have cancer; however, they are signs that you should be examined by a doctor to make sure that you do not have it.
Some signs and symptoms are more specific to certain forms of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, these may include:
- Changes in bowel/bladder function – colon, bladder, or prostate cancer
- Sores that do not heal – skin cancer or oral cancer depending on the location of the sore
- White patches/spots inside the mouth or on the tongue – mouth cancer
- Unusual bleeding/discharge – lung cancer, colon or rectal cancer, cervical or endometrial cancer, bladder or kidney cancer, or breast cancer depending on the location of bleeding/discharge
- Thickening/lump in the breast/other parts of the body – breast cancer, testicular cancer, lymphoma
- Indigestion/trouble swallowing – esophageal, stomach, or throat cancer
- Recent change in wart/mole or any new skin change – melanoma
- Nagging cough/hoarseness – lung, laryngeal, or thyroid cancer
Once again, just having one or more of these signs does not necessarily mean that you have cancer; however, you should see your doctor due to the possibility.
So what puts you at greater risk for developing cancer? Some possible risk factors include:
- Age – most cancers occur over the age of 65 (but can occur at any age)
- Tobacco – typically causes cancer of the lung, larynx, mouth, esophagus, bladder, kidney, throat, stomach, pancreas, and cervix
- Ultraviolet (UV) light – exposure via sun, sunlamps, and tanning booths can cause skin cancer
- Ionizing radiation – exposure via radioactive fallout (ex. nuclear weapons explosions or accidents at nuclear power plants), radon gas, x-rays, etc. most often produces leukemia, thyroid, breast, lung, and stomach cancers
- Specific chemicals and substances – exposure to asbestos, benzene, benzidine, cadmium, nickel, or vinyl chloride in the workplace increases cancer risk
- Certain viruses and bacteria – human papillomavirus (risk of cervical cancer), hepatitis B or C (risk of liver cancer), human T-cell leukemia/lymphoma virus (risk of leukemia or lymphoma), human immunodeficiency virus (risk of leukemia and a rarer cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma), Epstein-Barr virus (lymphoma), human herpesvirus 8 (risk of Kaposi’s sarcoma), and helicobacter pylori (risk of stomach cancer and lymphoma)
- Certain hormones – hormone therapy (especially estrogen following menopause) can lead to breast cancer; between 1940 and 1971, Diethylstilbestrol (DES) was given during pregnancy which can increase breast cancer risk
- Family history of cancer – certain cancers can run in families (ex. melanoma, breast, ovary, prostate, and colon cancers)
- Alcohol – greater than 2 drinks per day increases risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx, liver, and breast cancer
- Poor diet/lack of physical exercise/being overweight – diets high in fat increase risk of colon, uterus, and prostate cancer; lack of physical activity and being overweight increase risk of breast, colon, esophagus, uterus, and kidney cancer. Certain risks such as age and family history cannot be prevented, but you can decrease your risk of cancer by avoiding certain sources that are known to increase your risk. Avoid smoking, do not drink excessively, wear sunscreen, maintain a good diet, and get into a good exercise routine. It just might save your life.