Yes, you’re a busy woman and your life can get crazy at times, but there are 7 warning signs of cancer that you simply can’t afford to ignore.
Women often prioritize everyone else’s well-being before their own, which is why we wanted to take a moment to remind you that your health is important too.
You simply can’t be there for others if a health issue takes you out of the game, and we all know that cancer can do that in a hurry. Early detection is key to successful treatment, so please be aware of the warning signs and if you notice them, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.
Why You Should Heed the 7 Warnings Signs of Cancer
Research shows that despite all our medical advances, cancer remains the second leading cause of death worldwide, just behind cardiovascular disease.
Fortunately, we are improving. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 185.1 cancer deaths per 100,000 people in 2005, and 166.5 cancer deaths per 100,000 people in 2012.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) found that the death rate from cancer in the U.S. dropped by 29 percent from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2 percent drop between 2016 and 2017, the largest single-year drop ever recorded.
Indeed, the decline in the death rate over the past 26 years has been steady, due to long-term drops in death rates in the four most common cancer types: lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate. Scientists attribute these declines to fewer people smoking and to advances in early detection and treatment.
Still, a total of 1,806,590 new cancer cases and 606,520 deaths were expected in the U.S. in 2020. That means we’re a long way from being out of the woods. To increase your chances of surviving a cancer diagnosis, watch for the following warning signs.
7 Warning Signs of Cancer in Women
1. Unusual Bleeding May Signal Uterine or Colon Cancer
This one is listed first as it’s a potential cancer symptom that is often ignored by women. After all, we experience variations in bleeding our entire lives, so it’s easy to blow off one more.
Vaginal bleeding—particularly if it’s excessive, unusual for you (in heaviness or duration), or if it occurs later in life—may be a sign of uterine cancer. Of course, it could be attributed to other problems as well (like uterine fibroids, which are much less serious) so it’s important not to panic, but this is a symptom that you should have checked out.
Rectal bleeding can also be caused by several issues, including digestive problems, ulcers, and broken blood vessels, but it is a symptom of colon cancer as well. Your best approach is to start colonoscopies (colorectal cancer screenings) at 50 years old, and younger if you have an elevated risk, like someone in your immediate family who was diagnosed.
2. Unexplained Weight Loss May Be a Sign of Cancer
Most of us would love to shed a few pounds, but if you find that you’re losing weight without even trying—at a rate of about 10 pounds a month or so—and you haven’t engaged in a major weight-loss program, talk to your doctor. It could be something else, like an overactive thyroid, but cancer is known to lead to this type of weight loss too.
This is a tough one because there are so many things that can cause fatigue. Sometimes it’s just a stressful lifestyle that has been going on for a while. Other times it can be attributed to thyroid issues, hormone changes, or even something like fibromyalgia.
If the fatigue goes on for a month or more, however, and you feel like you’re getting the rest you need, it could be a sign of cancer. Make sure you’re keeping up with your regular screenings, including mammograms and pap smears, and let your doctor know about this symptom.
4. Bloating and Pelvic Pain as One of the 7 Warning Signs of Cancer
Bloating can be a common symptom in women, particularly as we get older, but if you’re noticing that it’s always there, that it goes from your ribcage to the pubic bone, and that it is accompanied by pain, that could be a sign of ovarian cancer.
Particularly if you notice this symptom along with unexplained bleeding and/or weight loss, make an appointment. These may all be signs of ovarian, uterine, pancreatic, colon, or gastrointestinal cancer.
5. Breast Changes May Signal Breast Cancer
You know that you should be on the lookout for lumps, but that’s not the only change in your breasts that could signal the presence of cancer. Other signs may include redness and thickening of the skin on the breast, which could be a sign of a rare form of inflammatory breast cancer. Particularly if this symptom persists for weeks, make sure to have it evaluated.
Nipple changes and unusual discharge (when you aren’t breastfeeding) are other potential warning signs of cancer in women.
This is another one that can be confusing. Women tend to develop more hyperpigmentation as they age. These can include age spots (or sun spots), dark areas, new moles, freckles, and more.
The key here is to focus on “unusual” changes. It’s best if you regularly examine your skin so you know what’s normal and what’s not. To help, remember the acronym ABCDE when accessing any possible changes:
- A stands for asymmetry
- B is for border changes
- C is for color changes
- D is for diameter growth or expansion
- E is for elevation—vertical growth or evolution
Signs of skin cancer typically change with time. The area grows, widens, or gets uneven and red. If you observe any of these changes, make an appointment with your dermatologist.
7. Difficulty Swallowing May Be a Sign of GI Cancer
GI (gastrointestinal) cancer is any type of cancer that occurs in the digestive tract. This includes the esophagus, stomach, and intestines. If you’re having a little difficulty swallowing lately—maybe you have changed your diet because of it—check with your doctor, who is likely to order chest X-rays or other exams of the GI tract.
That’s because this can be a symptom of esophageal cancer. Particularly if you notice other symptoms like weight loss and occasional vomiting, it’s time to see your doctor. Swollen lymph nodes under your arms or near your jawline may be another warning sign.
What if one of the 7 Warning Signs of Cancer Leads to a Diagnosis?
If your doctor visit turns into a cancer diagnosis, try not to panic. Always get a second opinion (and even a third is often wise), then reach out for help. Never try to travel your cancer journey alone. Others can help manage household duties and take some of the stress off of you while you’re going through treatment.
Also, consider stepping up your self-care. Your body needs all the help it can get to fight off cancer. Get your rest, eat a healthy diet that you can tolerate (talk to a dietician), try gentle exercise (like walking or biking), and use only natural, safe skincare. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can be very hard on the skin.