Signs of Cancer Women Should Never Ignore

·5 min read

Although cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, it's finally becoming more treatable in many cases. Between annual screenings that can detect early symptoms and paying attention to the warning signals your body is trying to tell you, more people are beating cancer. That said, there are many who ignore the symptoms or are so subtle they're easy to miss.  Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who share what signs to be aware of and why. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Avoidable Risk Factors that Increase the Chance of Cancer

Radiologist looking at the MRI scan images.
Radiologist looking at the MRI scan images.

Andrea Palka, BSN, RN, OCN and nursing manager from CancerBridge says, "According to the American Cancer Society, at least 42% of newly diagnosed cancers in the U.S. are linked to modifiable risk factors. This means that roughly 805,600 cases in 2022 were potentially avoidable. The pandemic had a potentially devastating effect on preventative health, specifically cancer. The National Cancer Institute has shared that the pandemic initially led to sharp decreases in recommended cancer screening tests, which could mean that some early cancers may have gone undetected. It's also led to the 'covibesity' phenomenon – the widespread rapid weight gain in response to behavioral, psychosocial and environmental changes – which could increase the risk of cancer. While the long-term outcomes of delayed screenings won't become clear for years, this "could mean that 'missed' cancers might be larger and more advanced when they were ultimately detected." 

2

Why Symptoms are Ignored

Thoughtful girl sitting on sill embracing knees looking at window, sad depressed teenager spending time alone at home, young upset pensive woman feeling lonely or frustrated thinking about problems
Thoughtful girl sitting on sill embracing knees looking at window, sad depressed teenager spending time alone at home, young upset pensive woman feeling lonely or frustrated thinking about problems

Palka explains, "With all of the sources available to people to learn about what's happening with their bodies, it's easy to get confused about what symptoms are benign, and which could be more serious. For example, GI issues are incredibly common among the U.S. population – often, those issues are easy to combat with medication, and/or an increase in fiber, increased water intake, increased physical activity and the like. Other times, they could be the signs of something more serious, like colon cancer. Ignoring signs is also a common phenomenon. According to Dr. Kim Lavoie co-director of the  Montreal Behavioural Medicine Centre and a psychology professor at the University of Quebec at Montreal. "People will cognitively avoid things they don't want to be real; it's a natural defense mechanism."

3

Lung Cancer Signs to Not Ignore

doctor explaining results of lung check up from x-ray scan chest on digital tablet screen to patient
doctor explaining results of lung check up from x-ray scan chest on digital tablet screen to patient

Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, MBBS, Ph.D., a professor of public health at New Mexico State University tells us, "Apart from breast cancer, lung and respiratory tract cancers are also among the top 5 causes of cancer related deaths in women in the U.S. However, there is a constellation of very common symptoms for lung and bronchial cancers that people may tend to ignore initially. These could range from difficulty breathing, cough that worsens with time, coughing blood, voice hoarseness, and chest pain. Lung and respiratory cancers are also the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in men who may experience similar symptoms."

4

Changes in Bowel Activity

woman-bathroom-toilet-night-urinary-problems
woman-bathroom-toilet-night-urinary-problems

Palka states, "As I mentioned, changes in your bowel activity may look like IBS, PMS or hemorrhoids, but it could actually be a sign of colorectal cancer which affects 1 in 24 women. To help identify the signs of colorectal cancer, the National Cancer Institute now recommends that people start regular screenings every few years starting at age 45." 

5

Bleeding or Discharge Outside of the Typical Menstrual Cycle

Woman with prostate problem in front of toilet bowl. Lady with hands holding her crotch, People wants to pee - urinary incontinence concept
Woman with prostate problem in front of toilet bowl. Lady with hands holding her crotch, People wants to pee - urinary incontinence concept

According to Palka, "Discharge and spotting between cycles is a common enough occurrence that most women will chalk up to changes in hormones or the general unpredictability of our menstrual cycles. However, those could be a sign of cervical or endometrial cancer. If you're already beyond menopause, bleeding is particularly worrisome, so call your doctor immediately." 

6

Night Sweats

woman sleeping at night with eye mask
woman sleeping at night with eye mask

"It's easy for women to chalk night sweats up to changes in seasons and outside temperature, hormones or even menopause," says Palka. But if night sweats are frequent and heavy, it could be a sign of something more serious, like blood cancers including leukemia and lymphoma. This may also be accompanied by a high fever, which can be a symptom of blood cancer." 

7

Fatigue

Woman lying on her bed with her eyes closed.
Woman lying on her bed with her eyes closed.

Palka explains, "Like night sweats, it's easy for women to contribute feelings of fatigue to their body's response to aging. Additionally, with a busy day to day, we often think of fatigue as normal. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer cells can use our body's energy supply and/or release substances that change the way our bodies make energy. Symptoms of extreme tiredness and weight loss may be an alarming sign that something is wrong."

8

Early Prevention is Key

woman consulting with her female doctor
woman consulting with her female doctor

Palka reminds us, "One of the best ways to reduce the physical, emotional, and financial impact of cancer is through reducing your risk before it occurs or catching it earlier on in the process when it's easier to treat. Prevention is our best defense in the fight against cancer, and regular screenings have the potential to save lives. But sometimes, it's difficult to know where to begin – what cancer screenings should you start to receive on a regular basis? How often should you get them? When is it time to call your doctor when you suspect something more serious is happening within your body? An appropriate first step might be to talk to your employer to see what benefits and resources are available to you. For example, services like CancerBridge help employees navigate the entire cancer experience, guiding them through the best ways to manage their preventative care and reduce the risk of cancer."