6 Most Commonly Overlooked Cancer Symptoms

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Unfortunately, while overall cancer survivorship rates are steadily increasing, research from the National Cancer Institute indicates cancer diagnosis rates are increasing, too. The number of people diagnosed with metastasized lung, colon, prostate, cervical, and uterine cancers is on the rise. And other cancers show no sign of fading away: nearly 1 million people annually are diagnosed with cancers of the thyroid, kidney, or pancreas.

Worse yet, due to the subtlety of certain cancers’ symptoms, many patients aren’t diagnosed until it’s too late. Before you let a cancer diagnosis completely change your life, make sure you know these commonly overlooked symptoms of cancer.

Weight loss

Though you might be thrilled to see the number on the scale go down, if you’re not actively trying to lose weight, it could be a symptom that you’re dealing with cancer.

“Many patients I see present with weight loss of 10 or 15 pounds,” says Dr. Anton Bilchik, MD, PhD, professor of surgery and chief of gastrointestinal research at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “They don’t pay attention to it because they feel good about losing weight. The concern is when somebody’s not trying to lose weight, but are losing it anyway.”

Bloating

Is that bloated belly the result of those beers you drank last night—or something more sinister? If your stomach seems to be persistently protruding out of virtually nowhere, it’s time to talk to your doctor. Dr. Bilchik says that abdominal bloating is a common symptom of pancreatic cancer, and can also be associated with cancers of the uterus, colon, liver, and stomach.

Skin discoloration

That golden tan you got on vacation might have you feeling like a million bucks, but if your skin’s hue is more orange or yellow than brown, you could be dealing with a serious health issue—specifically, a tumor that’s blocking the bile duct and causing bile to enter the bloodstream.

“That’s typically a bad sign because that usually indicates a more advanced cancer,” says Dr. Bilchik. “However, some people do have smaller cancers that block the bile duct, too, and they can be treated with surgery.”

Chronic cough

While coughs are hardly uncommon, if you have one that simply won’t go away, it’s time to get a medical professional involved in your care. According to Dr. Santosh Kesari, MD, PhD, a board-certified neurologist and neuro-oncologist and chair of the Department of Translational Neurosciences and Neurotherapeutics at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, a chronic cough is often one of the first noticed symptoms of lung cancer.

Acid reflux

While it’s estimated that up to 20 percent of the population will suffer from acid reflux at one point or another, a sudden onset of the condition without any changes in your diet merits a trip to the doctor, according to Dr. Bilchik. Tumors of the stomach, esophagus, and liver can all cause sudden-onset acid reflux, so before you bust out the Tums, call a doctor.

Memory trouble

Though it’s true that many people find themselves struggling with their memory as they age, if your memory troubles come on suddenly, it could be a sign that something’s amiss in your brain. According to Dr. Kesari, one of the first symptoms people with brain tumors notice is memory loss that’s associated with neither age nor injury.

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