From a global standpoint, cancer is also one of the leading causes of premature death.
Sometimes it can develop without warning. But the majority of cases have warning signs. The earlier you detect possible signs of cancer, the better the chances of survival.
Most common cancers
According to the NCI, the following cancers are the most prevalent in the United States, excluding nonmelanoma skin cancers:
- bladder cancer
- breast cancer
- colon and rectal cancer
- endometrial cancer
- kidney cancer
- liver cancer
- lung cancer
- non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- pancreatic cancer
- prostate cancer
- thyroid cancer
Breast and lung cancer are the most common of these, with over 200,000 Americans diagnosed each year. In comparison, there are fewer than 60,000 new cases of liver, pancreatic, or thyroid cancer each year.
Millions of people are actually diagnosed with nonmelanoma skin cancer each year, making it the most common cancer in the country. However, healthcare providers aren’t required to submit information about it to a cancer registry, making the exact number of cases harder to pinpoint.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell cancer (SCC) are the two types of nonmelanoma skin cancer. Nonmelanoma skin cancer is rarely fatal, resulting in fewer than 0.1 percent of cancer deaths each year.
The precise symptoms can vary between forms of cancer. Furthermore, some cancers, such as those of the pancreas, may not cause symptoms right away.
Still, there are some telltale signs to look out for.
As cancer cells attack healthy ones, your body may respond by losing weight.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), many people unexpectedly lose 10 pounds or more prior to their cancer diagnosis. In fact, this may be the very first sign of cancer.
Unexplained weight loss can be caused by other health conditions, such as hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid). The difference with cancer is that weight loss can come on suddenly. It’s most prominent in cancers of the:
Fever is the body’s response to an infection or illness. People who have cancer will often have a fever as a symptom. It’s usually a sign that the cancer has spread or that it’s in an advanced stage.
Fever is rarely an early symptom of cancer, but it may be if a person has a blood cancer, such as leukemia or lymphoma.
Some cancers may also cause unusual bleeding. For instance, colon or rectal cancer might cause bloody stools, while blood in the urine may be a symptom of prostate or bladder cancer. It’s important to report such symptoms or any unusual discharge to your doctor for analysis.
Blood loss may be more discreet in stomach cancer, as it may be internal bleeding only and harder to detect.
Pain and tiredness
Unexplained fatigue may be another symptom of cancer. It’s actually one of the most common symptoms. Tiredness that doesn’t seem to go away despite adequate sleep could be a symptom of an underlying health problem — cancer is just one possibility.
Tiredness is most prominent in leukemia, according to the ACS. Fatigue can also be related to blood loss from other cancers.
In some cases, cancer that’s spread, or metastasized, can cause pain. For example, back pain may be present in cancers of the:
Cough can occur for any number of reasons. It’s your body’s natural way of getting rid of unwanted substances. Colds, allergies, the flu, or even low humidity can lead to a cough.
When it comes to lung cancer, however, the cough can persist for a long time despite remedies. The cough may be frequent, and it can cause hoarseness. As the disease progresses, you may even cough up blood.
A persistent cough is also sometimes a symptom of thyroid cancer.
Skin changes are most often linked to skin cancer, where moles or warts change or enlarge. Certain skin changes may also indicate other forms of cancer.
For instance, white spots in the mouth can indicate oral ancer. Lumps or bumps underneath the skin can be tumors, such as in breast cancer.
Cancer can cause other skin changes, such as:
- increased hair growth
- hyperpigmentation, or dark spots
- jaundice, or yellow eyes and skin
Skin changes due to skin cancer may also include sores that either don’t go away or sores that heal and return.
Changes in digestion
Certain cancers can result in problems with eating, such as difficulty swallowing, changes in appetite, or pain after eating.
A person with stomach cancer may not have many symptoms, especially early on. However, the cancer can cause symptoms such as indigestion, nausea, vomiting, and bloating.
Trouble swallowing can be linked to different cancers of the head and neck, as well as esophageal cancer.
However, it isn’t only cancers of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract that can cause these symptoms. Ovarian cancer can also be associated with bloating or a feeling of fullness that won’t go away. Nausea and vomiting can also be a symptom of brain cancer.
Night sweats are more intense than lightly sweating or feeling too warm. They typically cause you to be drenched in sweat. Like other previously mentioned symptoms, night sweats can occur for a number of reasons unrelated to cancer.
However, night sweats can also be linked to the earlier stages of several cancers, ranging from leukemia to lymphoma to liver cancer.
Cancers with no warning signs
While many cancers have symptoms, some forms are more discreet.
Pancreatic cancer may not lead to any signs or symptoms until it’s progressed to an advanced stage. A family history, as well as frequent pancreatic swelling, may increase your risk. If this is the case, your doctor may recommend regular cancer screenings.
Some cases of lung cancer may only result in subtle signs and symptoms outside of the well-known cough. Certain types may cause increased blood calcium levels, a symptom which may not be detected without lab work.
Kidney cancer, especially in its earlier stages, is another type that may not cause notable symptoms. Larger or more advanced kidney cancer may lead to symptoms such as pain on one side, blood in the urine, or fatigue. However, these symptoms are often the result of other benign causes.
According to the NCI, 609,640 people were estimated to die from cancer in 2018. Men are more likely than women to have a fatal case. At the same time, the ACS estimates that over 20 million people are expected to survive cancer by 2026.
The key to surviving cancer is to take charge of your health. Be sure not to miss out on your annual checkups, and make sure you do all screenings as recommended by your doctor — this is especially important if certain cancers run in your family.
By dealing with the warning signs early, you may improve your chances of eventually being cancer-free.