Cancer Symptoms – The Complete Guide to Recognizing Early Warning Signs

Cancer Signs and Symptoms: In the human body, there is a cell cycle going on. Every new cell forms from an existing one. After completing its lifespan, the cell dies and is replaced by a new one. This mechanism is regulated by the cell growth factors. But, when these cell growth factors start dysfunctioning the division and multiplication of these cells become unregulated.

These cells don’t mature properly to perform their function, instead form clumps and start infecting the normal cells as well. These clumps are known as tumors. These tumors can be localized (benign) or can spread to the body (malignant), known as cancerous tumors.

What are cancer symptoms?

These are the changes in the body occurred due to cancer. These signs and symptoms vary according to the infected organ. However, some of these are general such as weakness, tiredness, weight loss, etc. There are over more than 100 types of cancer, which can manifest in the human body. 

The signs are the objective measure and can be quantifiable, whereas the symptoms are the subjective measure that cannot be quantified but are linked to serious manifestations. Signs can be more general as well. For example, if the body is suffering from an internal injury, the fever is a sign, and symptoms can be a pain in the affected area.

However in cancer, during the onset of it, the symptoms are more general and gradual. This makes cancer screening difficult. If you have certain symptoms that do not improve over time then you must see a doctor. Cancer usually doesn’t produce pain or serious impacts, in stating it causes weakness, weight loss, slow healing of wounds, and minute changes that often go unnoticed. 

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General cancer symptoms

In the beginning stages, cancer produces only general symptoms, which may include – 

  1. Function loss – tumors have a high growth rate, due to the rapid multiplication and production of new cells. To do this, it requires more oxygen supply and nutrients. So a growing tumor depletes the surrounding tissues and cells of the incoming nutrients and O2 supply. This results in their death and hence, loss of function. Many cancerous tumors develop new arteries that supply all the nutrients and oxygen of that organ to the growing tumor and result in organ failure as well.
  2. Warburg Effect – according to this effect, the cancer cell adapts a different energy production pathway. In presence of oxygen supply and glucose, it supports growing tumors and increases lactate production instead of growing biomass.
  3. Space occupancy – the abnormal cancer tumor cause destruction, and cell death in the nearby surrounding. The affected area feels pain, inflammation, and loss of function. The tumor, even if localized gradually increases mass production and increases the space occupancy in the body. If the tumor travels it does the same at different locations in the body.
  4. Paraneoplastic syndrome – if the tumor is of neuroendocrine origin it will cause hormone imbalance as well. The hormone secretory gland cells will lose their response to stop signals or negative feedback. The organ in which the hormones are released will be affected.  In this case, the cancer effect is produced far away from the tumor site.
  5. Venous thrombosis – due to cancer, the clotting factors will also increase and this will increase the risk of the development of venous thrombosis.
  6. Fluid collection in organs – cancer increases the extracellular collection of fluids. This fills the organs such as the lungs, and abdomen with fluid. This process is known as fluid effusion.
  7. Other – symptoms may also include pain in muscles and joints, weakness, reoccurrence of fever, sudden bruises, chronic cold, cough, uneasy feeling after eating, unexplained blood moles, change in skin color and texture, unexplained lumps, weight loss or gain, hoarseness, etc. 
Cancer Symptoms - The Complete Guide to Recognizing Early Warning Signs

Specific cancer symptoms 

The site-specific cancer symptoms vary from organ to organ. It is also known as local cancer symptoms.

S.No.Affected organCancer and typesSymptoms 
1BreastBreast cancerLump formation  Itchy skin around nipples Inversion of nipples Blood discharge Dimpling of skin
2Blood or immune cancerLeukemia or lymphomas Swollen lymph node Excessive bleeding bruises Unusual lumps Unexplained bruises all over the body Blood clots Medical history of thrombosis
3Gastrointestinal (GI)GI cancer includes stomach, pancreas, colon, prostate, bladder, Disturbed bowel habits Frequent and unexplained diarrhea and constipation. Abdominal pain Nausea Enlarged liver Persisting heartburn, acidity Blood in stools. The feeling of fullness or change in appetite 
4Genitourinary Kidney, GI cancers, uterine, ovary, vaginal cancer, prostate, urothelial cancer, Burning sensation in urine, difficulty passing urine Irregular postmenopausal vaginal bleeding Blood in urine,  Disturbed menstrual cycle Numbness in the mouth or lip White-red patches on tongue
5MusculoskeletalMuscles and bone cancerUnexplained pain in joints Pain in long bones or arms and legs Unexplained fractures Bruises  Swelling in bone
6Neck and throatEsophageal or throat or GI cancerPersistent pain in the neck and throat region Difficulty in swelling Pain while talking Swelling and hoarseness.
7Neurological Brain cancerVertigo Seizures Persistent headaches Frequent fainting Difficulty balance Might cause vision loss Paralysis Drooping of the face Ineffective motor neuron function
8Respiratory Lung cancerShortness of breath Persistent pain in the lungs, especially while breathing Bloody sputum Chronic cold and cough, Enlargement of lungs Pus formation in the lungs Ruptured lungs (in severe cases)
9SkinSkin cancer includes – melanoma, basal or squamous cell carcinoma, oral cancer, or any other cancer where it develops in skin cells.Unexplained bruises Persistent pain due to sores and ulcers Blood clots or lumps Unexplained moles Rashes all over the body Change in skin texture Unusual bleeding Pus containing wounds

Secondary symptoms 

The treatment of cancer may include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, drug, hormonal or target therapies, or a combination of therapies. This may develop some treatment-related or secondary symptoms which may include – 

  • Severe pathogenic infections
  • Persistence pain in muscles or body due to chemo or radiotherapy
  • Deep vein thrombosis and embolism.
  • “Tumor lysis syndrome”, in this during therapy a tumor may rupture and spread to another body organ. This can cause secondary cancer as well.
  • Symptoms that require immediate medical aid includes – high fever, chills, burning sensation in the chest, pain in the chest, shortness of breath, misbalance, confusion, severe headache, bloody wounds, bloody urines, and Soares. 
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FAQs Related to Cancer Signs and Symptoms 

Can vaginal cancer occur post-menopause?

Yes, Postmenopausal bleeding is always questionable. Pain in the abdomen, bleeding from the vagina, blood in urine, and menstruation-like conditions after menopause are risks for vaginal cancer and are a matter of concern. One should immediately seek a gynecologist’s help.

What are the ABCDE mnemonic changes to look for, in mole (skin cancer)?

In skin cancer, the mnemonic changes ABCDE stands for –

A – Asymmetry – in skin cancer (melanoma) unsymmetrical moles appear on the skin and soon turn into wounds that bleed. Non–cancerous moles are symmetrical in nature

B – Border – The cancerous moles are bulgy with an indefinite border, while the non-cancerous one is flat and smooth with a definite border.

C – Color – They are usually different in color and are mostly red.

D – Diameter – Usually the diameter is 6 mm in diameter

E – Evolving – They often change shape and size. Usually, develop in sores or bleeding wounds.

Is headache, a persistent sign of brain tumors?

Well, the persistent headache can be a sign of a developmental brain tumor. Blood clots usually form in this, further, the lack of oxygen causes seizures and headaches. This happens because cancerous cells deprive their surrounding cells of oxygen and nutrients. A brain tumor can also lead to motor dysfunction or even brain death.

When to seek medical help?

If you feel general symptoms include, persistent pain in any part of the body, unexplained fever, prolonged cough or cold, weakness, tiredness, frequently faint,unable to stand for longer than a while, unexplained bruises (red or black in color), or any other above mentioned symptoms. One should immediately visit their doctor. Early diagnosis can prevent or can help in the better management of any disease.

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