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9 Less-Common Signs That Could Mean Cancer

There are many different types of cancer, making it virtually impossible to build a one-size-fits-all checklist of symptoms. It’s not unusual for some cancer symptoms to fly under the radar – or be confused with an unrelated condition.

It’s estimated that one in three people in the U.S. will develop cancer at some point in their life, according to the American Cancer Society. It’s easy to look at certain lifestyle choices – smoking and diets high in fried food, for example – and expect there to be an elevated risk of certain cancers.

It’s more of a challenge to identify cancers when there’s no obvious set of risk factors to keep us vigilant. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the less-obvious symptoms that could indicate cancer.

  1. Chronic cough or hoarseness. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that coughing can be an indicator of lung cancer. But so is unexplained hoarseness. For some people with lung cancer, their voice will become strained, raspy or sound more quiet or softer in tone. This can be caused by a tumor pressing against the nerve that controls your vocal cords. The condition could also be a sign of laryngeal cancer.  Of course, hoarseness can also be caused by a variety of less serious things, including colds and laryngitis. If it lingers beyond a couple of weeks, it’s time to see your doctor.
  2. Difficulty swallowing. If you feel like food is getting stuck in your throat, that could be a symptom of cancers of the mouth, throat or esophagus. The condition is known as dysphasia and can be caused by a tumor blocking or narrowing your food passage.
  3. Unexpected weight loss. Suddenly losing weight without making any lifestyle changes can be a symptom of many health conditions, including diabetes, dementia and heart failure. But it can also be related to numerous cancers. There’s no hard and fast rule on what constitutes enough weight loss to set off alarm bells. But if you’ve lost 5 percent of your body weight over six months – without trying – you should mention it to your doctor.
  4. Night sweats. Night sweats can become particularly concerning when they are persistent and drenching. If you find yourself having to change your sleeping clothes during the night, this could be a sign of cancer. Leukemia and lymphoma are among the cancers that can cause night sweats.
  5. Persistent heartburn. Heartburn is a well-known symptom of heart attack. But it can also be an indicator of esophageal or stomach cancer. Heartburn is a burning feeling in your chest that usually occurs after a meal or at night.
  6. Lumps and bumps. If you discover a new lump or bump under your skin, there’s no need to immediately fear the worst. But in rare instances, these can be a sign of soft tissue sarcoma. The cancer can form anywhere in the body, but is commonly found in the arms, legs, chest and abdomen. Cancerous lumps are usually hard and painless to the touch. They also grow steadily in size over weeks and months.
  7. Bloating. In some instances, cancer irritates the abdominal walls, stimulating the membrane to produce more fluid than your body can get rid of on its own. The condition (ascites) results from an accumulation of that fluid and swelling of the belly. It can also be a symptom of ovarian, breast, colon, pancreatic and stomach cancer if the tumor is located along the lining of the abdominal cavity. If persistent bloating lasts more than two weeks, see your doctor.
  8. Changes in bathroom habits. Occasional bouts of diarrhea or constipation are generally nothing to worry about. But if you experience a significant change in your bathroom habits, it may be time to visit your doctor. Of particular concern is persistent diarrhea or constipation – or alternating periods of the two conditions. This can be a strong indicator of colon cancer.
  9. New pain that won’t go away. Often, people who notice a new pain will ignore it or assume it’s just another side effect of getting older. But if the pain refuses to go away, it could be an indicator of many different types of cancer. Pain can occur when the tumor presses against a nerve, bone or organ. Back pain, for example, could be related to a tumor compressing nerves in the spinal cord.

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