Cancer is a ‘silent disease’ that evolves slowly and usually gives few or no warnings at first. But sooner or later, signals may still emerge that may indicate cancer. These are complaints, such as pain, bleeding that you don’t normally have and for which you don’t have an immediate explanation.

By paying attention, you increase your chances of detecting a possible cancer at an earlier stage. In this way, a less aggressive treatment can suffice, and you increase your chance of healing. As you get older, you need to be even more alert to these alarm signals.

Fortunately, in most people, these alarm signals are not a sign of cancer, but of another condition. So you don’t have to worry unnecessarily. However, it is best to consult your doctor if the signs last more than two weeks. Whether a persistent complaint is really the result of a cancer can only be determined by a doctor after the necessary medical examinations. If necessary, your doctor will refer you for further follow-ups or for appropriate treatment.

The 16 most common alarm signals of cancer

  1. Persistent hoarseness or cough, especially in smokers and ex-smokers.
  2. Shortness of breath for no apparent reason and/or chest pain.
  3. Difficulty swallowing, especially in people who smoke and drink alcohol or if you are over 40.
  4. Unexplained and persistent pain, for example in the back, chest, abdomen, bones…
  5. Chronic change in bowel movements: constipation, diarrhea, or the alternation of both.
  6. Repeated indigestion or heartburn without obvious cause.
  7. Persistent bloating and/or a swollen abdomen.
  8. Unexplained weight loss and/or loss of appetite.
  9. Problems urinating, especially in men, such as difficulty urinating, pain when urinating.
  10. Extreme or unusual fatigue, for no apparent reason.
  11. Abundant night sweats or persistent fever with no obvious cause.
  12. Abnormal or unexplained blood loss, such as: vaginally outside the periods or after menopause, blood in the urine, stool or spit.
  13. Lump, swelling or a flaking spot, anywhere on the body, for example testicle, chest, armpit, under the skin.
  14. Modification or appearance of a pigment spot on the skin: new moles or changes to it, such as color, shape, size, itching and rapid bleeding
  15. Non-healing wound or ulcer in the mouth or on the skin.
  16. Repeated or persistent infections that do not heal.

Possible signs of the most common cancers

1. Breast cancer

  • Changes in the shape of a breast;
  • A lump or swelling on the chest or armpits;
  • Bizarre change of the nipple or areola: retracted nipple, discoloration, flaking or thickening, moisture secretion;
  • Pain;
  • Dents, pits or folds in the chest.

2. Gynecologic cancer

  • Abnormal blood loss between periods, after menopause, after sex;
  • Vague abdominal and/or low back pain;
  • Bloating, nausea…;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Changes in bowel movements;
  • Thick belly

3. Prostate cancer

  • Problems urinating: weak and/or interrupted urine jet, difficulty urinating, frequent urination, feeling that the bladder is not completely empty…;
  • Pain or burning sensation when urinating or ejaculating;
  • Blood in the urine or semen.

4. Stomach cancer, liver cancer and bowel cancer

  • Unexplained fatigue;
  • Unexplained slimming, prolonged loss of appetite;
  • Change in bowel movements habits: constipation, diarrhea or both alternately;
  • Unusual persistent nausea;
  • Blood in bowel movements;
  • Persistent cramps or abdominal pain;
  • Yellowish discoloration of skin and whites of the eyes, change in urine and bowel movements.

5. Lung cancer

  • Persistent cough (at least 3 weeks);
  • Persistent hoarseness;
  • Persistent chest pain;
  • Shortness of breath for no reason;
  • Coughing up blood;
  • Frequent bronchitis or pneumonia;
  • Unexplained fatigue;
  • Unexplained weight loss.

6. Skin cancer

A suspicious skin spot:

  • that changes;
  • gets two uneven halves (not symmetrical);
  • has an erratic edge or notch;
  • has different shades;
  • is larger than 6 millimeters;
  • itches, ignites or bleeds.

7. Lymphatic system cancer and leukemia

  • Fatigue;
  • Paleness,
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever, heavy sweating
  • Strep throat
  • Spontaneous bruising
  • Swelling of lymph nodes and enlargement of the liver and spleen

8. Bladder cancer and kidney cancer

  • Blood in urine;
  • Difficulty urinating: pain or burning sensation;
  • Frequent urination, sudden urination…;
  • Pain in the lower abdomen and/or lower back;
  • Swelling in the lower abdomen.

9. Head and neck cancers

  • Swelling or pain in the mouth or neck;
  • Wound or ulcer in the mouth that does not heal;
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing, swallowing or feeling a ‘lump in the throat’;
  • Persistent hoarseness;
  • Audible breathing (stridor);
  • Persistent cough or throat stimulus;
  • Bad breath;
  • Nodules in the neck area;
  • Bleeding from the mouth or nose;
  • Changes in hearing or pain around the ear;
  • Headache;
  • Nasal congestion or changes in odor perception;
  • Unexplained weight loss.
Erica Delaney

An experienced nurse, Erica focuses on subjects related to pregnancy and infant health. She enjoys dancing and playing the piano in her free time.