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Recognise the red flags that could lead to cancer


1st Jan 2015 Health Conditions

Recognise the red flags that could lead to cancer

Niggly health problems that never seem to go away may be trivial. Understand the red flags which could be a sign of cancer, and get the symptoms checked out.

It's no bother for your doctor

"Doctors are always thinking about cancer and looking out for it," says GP Dr Emmajane Down. "We never want to miss a cancer diagnosis and have spent many years training so that we can spot the difference between serious and non-serious conditions. We don’t mind if you are worried and want to be checked out, or if you make an appointment and it turns out to be nothing."

Here are some of the more common persistent symptoms you shouldn’t ignore from Dr Down – whether they are cancer or some less serious condition.


Red flags not to be ignored


Cancer doesn’t go away on its own, so any new lump or a symptom that persists longer than a few weeks should be examined by your doctor. Remember cancer found early gives a much better chance of being treated and cured.

Lumps in the breast can be a sign of breast cancer  or just benign cysts. Get them checked as soon as you notice them.

Blood in your stools

This could be a one warning sign of bowel cancer. Haemorrhoids (piles) could be the culprit, but it’ safer to have a diagnosis early. Other warning signs are new changes in your daily bowel habit; new constipation or diarrhoea (or both) that are persisting should be reported to your doctor—who will then examine you and perform some simple tests to rule out cancer and bowel disease.

Unexplained weight loss

Unexplained weight loss should always be reported to your doctor. If you reduce the amount of food you eat, you will lose weight, but some serious diseases can cause weight loss despite eating the same amount of food. All types of cancer can eventually cause weight loss, but it could be illnesses such as hyperthyroidism. This can be diagnosed with a simple blood test and is treatable.


More symptoms that should be checked out

Persistent tiredness and fatigue

Cancer often causes tiredness and fatigue, but so can simple treatable conditions such as low iron levels (anaemia) and an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).

A persistent cough or hoarse voice

If you have a cough that persists for more than three weeks, get it checked by your GP. It will most likely be inflammation or infection, but it is also a symptom of lung cancer. The earlier you find out, the more likely you’ll have a good outcome from treatment.

If you cough up blood, see your GP as soon as possible. It may be inflammation of the larynx (laryngitis), but cancer of the voice box needs to be excluded.


New moles or changes in moles

All moles that are new or have changed in any way need to be seen by your doctor. If a mole is getting bigger or changed in colour or shape that it is not normal and skin cancer needs to be excluded.

Mouth ulcers that don’t heal

A mouth ulcer that doesn’t heal after two to three weeks is not normal. Any new swelling or lump in the mouth lasting more than three weeks should be shown to your doctor to rule out mouth cancer.


Males and female problems

The following gender-specific symptoms should be investigated to eliminate cancer.

Difficulties passing urine

Early signs of prostate cancer in men are similar to those for a benign prostate swelling. Only a doctor can tell the difference. Early signs of prostate problems include difficulty passing urine or passing urine frequently at night.


Unexplained vaginal bleeding

Bleeding between periods or after sex in women can be an early sign of cervical cancer. It could be just an infection of a benign lesion of the cervix causing the bleeding. Only an examination by a doctor can tell the difference between them.

If you experience any of the above persistently, contact your GP. 


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