Cancer is a disease that develops when cells in your body divide at a faster rate than normal. These abnormal cells grow into a lump — or tumor. It is a common disease that can affect almost every part of your body. About 39.5% of all people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.
Cancer can cause so many symptoms, but these symptoms are most often caused by illness, injury, benign tumors, or other disease. If you have symptoms that do not get better after a few weeks, see your doctor so that problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible. Often, cancer does not cause pain, so do not wait to feel pain before seeing a doctor. It’s always best to listen to the body and talk to a doctor if something doesn’t feel quite right. Whether it’s a change that’s new, unusual, or something that won’t go away – get it checked out.
Most cancers have four stages. The specific stage is determined by a few different factors, including the size and location of the tumor:
Stage 1: Cancer is localized to a small area and hasn’t spread to lymph nodes or other tissues.
Stage 2: Cancer has grown, but it hasn’t spread.
Stage 3: Cancer has grown larger and has possibly spread to lymph nodes or other tissues.
Stage 4: Cancer has spread to other organs or areas of your body. This stage is also referred to as metastatic or advanced cancer.
Though stages 1 through 4 are the most common, there is also stage zero. This earliest phase describes cancer that is still localized to the area in which it started. Cancers that are still in stage zero are usually easily treatable and are considered pre-cancerous by most healthcare providers.
There are five main types of cancer. These include:
Carcinoma. This type of cancer affects organs and glands, such as the lungs, breasts, pancreas and skin. Carcinoma is the most common type of cancer.
Sarcoma. This cancer affects soft or connective tissues, such as muscle, fat, bone, cartilage or blood vessels.
Melanoma. Sometimes cancer can develop in the cells that pigment your skin. These cancers are called melanoma.
Lymphoma. This cancer affects your lymphocytes or white blood cells.
Leukemia. This type of cancer affects blood.
Some of the symptoms that cancer may cause include:
- Lump or firm feeling in your breast or under your arm
- Nipple changes or discharge
- Skin that is itchy, red, scaly, dimpled, or puckered
- Trouble urinating
- Pain when urinating
- Blood in the urine
- Blood in the stools
- Changes in bowel habits
- Cough or hoarseness that does not go away
- Pain after eating (heartburn or indigestion that doesn’t go away)
- Trouble swallowing
- Belly pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Appetite changes
- Fatigue that is severe and lasts
- A white or red patch on the tongue or in your mouth
- Bleeding, pain, or numbness in the lip or mouth
- Vision changes
- Hearing changes
- Drooping of the face
- A flesh-colored lump that bleeds or turns scaly
- A new mole or a change in an existing mole; changes shape or looks uneven, changes colour, gets darker or has more than 2 colours, starts itching, crusting, flaking or bleeding, gets larger or more raised from the skin. Any of the above changes means there’s a chance you have malignant melanoma, a form of skin cancer.
- A sore that does not heal
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- Swelling or lumps anywhere such as in the neck, underarm, stomach, and groin
- To remember which changes are cause for concern, use this easy mnemonic, ABCDE.
Asymmetry: One half of the mole or mark doesn’t look like the other.
Border: The edges are irregular or blurred.
Color: It’s varied or inconsistent, both black and brown.
Diameter: It’s larger than the size of a pencil eraser.
Evolving: This refers to any mole that grows, bleeds or otherwise changes over time.
Weight gain or weight loss (for no known reason)
Small weight changes over time are quite normal, but losing a noticeable amount of weight without trying to, is might be important.
Bleeding or bruising (for no known reason)
This includes blood in your poo or pee, and vomiting or coughing up blood – no matter how much or what colour (it could be red, or a darker colour like brown or black). It also includes any unexplained vaginal bleeding between periods, after sex or after the menopause.
The skin repairs itself very quickly and any damage usually heals within a week or so. When a spot, wart or sore doesn’t heal, even if it’s painless, a doctor needs to check it. Unexplained bleeding can often be caused by something far less serious than cancer, but you should always report it to your doctor.
A bruise on the shin from bumping into the coffee table is normal. But suddenly getting a lot of bruises in unusual places that haven’t been bumped can indicate various blood cancers.
Fever or night sweats (for no known reason)
Sweating at night can be caused by infections or it can be a side effect of certain medications. It’s also often experienced by women around the time of the menopause. But very heavy, drenching night sweats can also be a sign of cancer.
Unexplained pain or ache
Pain is one way our bodies tell us that something is wrong. As we get older, it‘s more common to experience aches and pains. But unexplained pain could be a sign of something more serious.
There are lots of reasons you may feel more tired than usual, particularly if you’re going through a stressful event, or having troubles sleeping. But if you’re feeling tired for no clear reason, it could be a sign that something is wrong – tell your doctor.