10 Cancer Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore

Curly haired woman sits on orange couch with coffee cupCancer has surpassed all other illnesses as the number one killer of Latinos. Due to the lack of health insurance,  living in poverty and the lack of cancer screenings, there are multiple reasons as to why Latinos aren’t getting proper healthcare screenings.

In addition to learning about symptoms, screenings and resources, helping out those who are uninformed or misinformed could be a life saver, especially for Latinas.

Even though about 65 percent of women over 40 have had a mammogram in the last two years, according to the CDC, cancer isn’t always caught by screening tests.

In addition, when women suspect something, there is a fear of knowing that prevents them seeking immediate medical counsel. Among Latinos, there are more barriers, but in addition, the need to work and upkeep a household also prevents many from seeing a doctor. Women may also misinterpret symptoms that could indicate cancer.

Many times, the symptoms may not lead to cancer but another form of benign issue, like fibroid tumors. But if the symptoms are persistent and continue to progress, it is worth talking to a doctor about the problems.

Regular checkups, knowing your body and Pap smears and mammograms are all important for good health, reports WebMD.

The following are cancer symptoms that women should not ignore:

1.  Changes in the Breast 

Lumps should not be ignored even if nothing shows up after a mammogram. If you see problems with your nipple, like scaliness or flaking, this could be a sign of Paget’s disease of the nipple, which is associated with cancer in about 95 percent of cases. If you have any milky or bloody discharge, you should seek out medical attention.

Dimpling of the skin over the breast, especially if it looks like the texture of an orange rind is something to be concerned about. The dimpling is often associated with inflammatory breast cancer which is rare but usually aggressive cancer characterized also by swollen, hot, red breasts.

Expect your doctor to do a breast exam and medical history, followed by a mammogram or sonogram and perhaps a biopsy, depending on the results of both tests.

2. Irregular Bleeding

Once you hit menopause (defined as 12 months without a period), any postmenopausal bleeding is a warning sign. Such bleeding could indicate something as benign as an endometrial polyp or something more serious like endometrial or cervical cancer.

Bleeding that is uncharacteristic for you — spotting outside of your normal menstrual cycle or heavier periods — should be looked into. Around menopause, abnormal bleeding is often attributed to hormonal shifts, though more serious problems could be the cause, which is why all abnormal vaginal bleeding should be evaluated. Expect to receive a transvaginal sonogram and perhaps a biopsy.

3. Rectal Bleeding

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in women. One of the hallmarks is rectal bleeding, which many people attribute to hemorrhoids, the most common cause. Although, that isn’t always the case. Red or dark blood in your stool warrants a visit to your doctor, she says.

Your doctor will likely do a rectal exam and order a colonoscopy if you’re 50 or older and perhaps even if you’re younger.

4. Discharge

A foul or smelly vaginal discharge could be a sign of cervical cancer. The discharge may contain blood and may occur between periods or after menopause. It’s best not to self-treat a discharge with over-the-counter medications.

An exam is necessary to determine if the discharge is due to an infection or something more serious.

5. Bloating

Ovarian cancer is the primary killer of all the reproductive-organ cancers. The four most frequent symptoms are bloating; feeling that you’re getting full earlier than you typically would when eating; changing bowel or bladder habits, such as urinating more frequently; and low back or pelvic pain.

It’s not unusual to have one or two of these symptoms occasionally, particularly after a big meal. But pay attention if you have two or more symptoms occurring daily for more than two weeks.

Expect a pelvic exam, transvaginal sonogram and perhaps a CA-125 blood test to check for cancerous cells.

6. Unexplained Weight Gain or Loss

Gaining excess weight month to month — especially if you usually maintain a normal weight and watch what you eat — can be due to an accumulation of fluid in the belly related to ovarian cancer and warrants seeing your doctor.

Unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more “may be the first sign of cancer,” according to the American Cancer Society, and is most often associated with pancreatic, stomach, esophagus or lung cancer.

But weight loss in women is often caused by a hyperactive thyroid. Expect your doctor to order a thyroid test first to check for this common disease.

7. Persistent Cough

Any persistent cough — one that lasts more than two or three weeks and is not due to an allergy or upper respiratory infection or one that produces blood in the sputum — needs to be checked by your doctor. If your cough may be caused by smoking or being exposed to second-hand smoke, get it checked out. You don’t have to be a smoker to be at risk; the majority of lung cancers that occur in nonsmokers also occur in women. Expect your doctor to order a chest X-ray and perhaps a CT scan.

8. Change in Lymph Nodes

“If you feel hard lymph nodes in your neck or under your arm, you should be seen by a doctor,” advises Runowicz. Swollen, firm lymph nodes are often the result of an infection. However, lymphoma or lung, breast, head, or neck cancer that has spread can also show up as an enlarged lymph node. Expect a physical exam and possibly a biopsy.

9. Fatigue

Although fatigue can be hard to quantify, the American Cancer Society defines it as “extreme tiredness that does not get better with rest.” If you’re persistently fatigued, see your doctor. Leukemia, colon, or stomach cancer — which can cause blood loss — can result in fatigue.

Fatigue can be a serious problem and it’s easy to ignore. Your doctor will most likely do a physical exam and order blood tests to evaluate your thyroid and rule out a thyroid condition.

10. Skin Changes

Keep an eye on any changes you notice on your skin all over your body, and call your doctor right away if anything concerns you.

Sores in the mouth that don’t heal — especially if you smoke or drink alcohol — may be a sign of oral cancer and should be examined by your physician.

In particular, note any sores or irritated skin in the vaginal area. A non-healing vulvar lesion could be a sign of vulvar cancer. Changes in moles or pigmented lesions on the vulva can also signify cancer. A simple biopsy can be done in your doctor’s office if necessary.