Because the symptoms of cancer are very varied and occasionally completely non-specific, the diagnosis of cancer is not always as simple as it might seem.
However, we can identify certain signs or symptoms that should make us suspect the existence of a cancer and lead us to consult our general practitioner in order to begin the appropriate investigation.
The symptoms of a cancer can be non-specific, but we should consult our doctor if we notice certain signs.
Any abnormal growth of a nodule, tumour, or lump in any part of our body should be notified to our general practitioner. Similarly, abnormal bleeding from the anus (rectal bleeding) or with bowel movements (hematochezia) may be symptoms of colon cancer. Bleeding with urination (haematuria) or any bleeding from the mouth, especially when vomiting (hematemesis) or coughing (haemoptysis), the latter symptoms being associated with lung cancer, warrant a consultation with our general practitioner. Intestinal rhythm changes, such as persistent constipation or diarrhoea, could also be signs of a possible colon or rectal tumour. Cancer can also manifest itself with an episode of loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, and weakness. This triad, also known as toxic syndrome, is characteristic of many tumour processes such as lung or pancreatic cancer.
Persistent pain that does not respond to standard pain medication can also be a guiding symptom for cancer screening. Thus, epigastric pain (pain in the “pit of the stomach”) that radiates like a belt towards the back could be indicative of stomach or pancreatic cancer. Similarly, persistent bone pain that does not improve with standard treatments should also leads us to consult with our general practitioner.
We must also consult our general practitioner if we detect a change in colour, bleeding, or itching of any freckle or blemish on our skin, as these could be the initial signs of a malignant melanoma.
In short, we should consult our general practitioner about any of the abovementioned signs or symptoms without forgetting that, in many cases, the symptoms of cancer are so non-specific and subtle that they are hard to identify.