Cancer occurs when abnormal cells divide uncontrollably, interrupting many necessary functions throughout the body. With the exception of blood cancer, most cancers develop as solid tumors, eventually damaging or shutting down affected organs. Cancer cells can quickly spread to other parts of the body and, as such, treatment is most effective when doctors identify the condition early.
There are several types of skin cancer, including squamous cell, basal cell, and melanoma. Squamous cell presents with a red, scaly bump that may itch or bleed when scraped. A pearly nodule similar in appearance to eczema or an acne scar can indicate basal cell cancer. These two types are often slow-growing and easy to treat. Melanoma is more serious and presents as an asymmetrical, dark-colored mole. The growth may change shape over time and can spread to other parts of the body.
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a lump or mass in the breast tissue, though some people also develop swollen lymph nodes under the armpit. Symptoms such as swelling of the breast tissue or dimpling of the skin may occur without a noticeable lump. Changes in the nipple such as retraction, discharge, pain, or thickening skin may also indicate breast cancer. Breast cancer is more common in women than in men.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Though it produces few symptoms in its earlier stages, as it advances tumors may grow and take over the lung tissue or spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms of lung cancer include a cough that won't go away, coughing up blood, chest pain, a hoarse voice, shortness of breath and fatigue. Some people also experience headache, weight loss, and fever. Bone pain, trouble swallowing, abdominal pain and swelling, and neurological symptoms can develop. These symptoms occur when the tumors press on nearby structures, or because the cancer spreads to the bones, brain, liver and adrenal glands.
Prostate cancer affects only males and is more common in older men with a family history of the condition. Men who are overweight, and those of African American heritage, are at greater risk. Since the prostate gland surrounds the urethra below the bladder, difficulty urinating is one of the most common symptoms. Men may also experience a frequent need to urinate or trouble starting and stopping urine flow. Burning pain, blood in the urine or semen, and painful ejaculation may also occur.
Colorectal cancer is a malignant tumor that affects the colon (large intestine) or rectum, where stool collects before passing through the anus. This type of cancer is often asymptomatic until the tumor is large or has invaded nearby tissues and organs. The most tell-tale sign of colon cancer is bleeding from the rectum or dark stool. Other early signs to watch for are cramping, bloating, a feeling of fullness in the rectum, a palpable lump or mass in the stomach, and changes in bowel movements, either constipation or diarrhea. In later stages, men with colon or colorectal cancer may have nausea, lack of appetite, pain, swollen lymph nodes, anemia, and signs and symptoms of obstruction such as an inability to have a bowel movement or to pass gas, and abdominal swelling.
Tumors in the bladder usually cause symptoms from an early stage, making it one type of cancer doctors often detect early. The condition is most common in older men with a history of smoking. The main symptoms are pelvic pain, painful urination, and blood in the urine. Some people also experience lower back pain and frequent urination. These symptoms are similar to a bladder or kidney infection, which can delay detection.
Non-Hodgkins lymphoma affects the lymphocytes, essential white blood cells that exist in the lymph nodes, spleen, and liver and are part of the lymphatic and immune systems. Many symptoms of this cancer are similar to other conditions, making it a difficult type to diagnose. There are several types of Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and each requires unique treatment. Symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, fever, chills, fatigue, swollen belly, frequent infections, bleeding or bruising, cough, night sweats, and shortness of breath.
Leukemia begins in the bone marrow, where the body creates blood cells. Immature white blood cells mutate and become abnormal. There are several types of leukemia, each with similar symptoms but different prognoses. The symptoms of leukemia are due to these abnormal cells building up in the body and failing to do the job for which they are intended. People with leukemia experience fever, swollen spleen and liver, frequent infections, weight loss, night sweats, fatigue, mouth sores, and blood clotting disorders.
Tumors in the kidney can be challenging to diagnose, as symptoms often do not present in the early stages. When symptoms do occur, they often mimic an infection, so patients require medical imaging to receive an accurate diagnosis. Signs and symptoms of kidney cancer include blood in the urine, lower back pain, weight loss, fatigue, fever, and lack of appetite.
Endometrial cancer develops in the lining of the uterus, and post-menopausal women are most commonly affected. The most frequent symptoms are bleeding not associated with a menstrual period. Women may also experience pelvic pain, frequent urination, and pain during intercourse. To diagnose endometrial cancer, the doctor must order an ultrasound and biopsy, as a pap smear will not detect this form of cancer.
Ovarian cancer is another condition that affects women -- specifically the ovaries in the lower abdomen. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer signs and symptoms are similar to those of a menstrual cycle, making it difficult to detect. Women with ovarian cancer experience bloating, abdominal pain, trouble eating, lack of satiation, and a frequent, urgent need to urinate. More severe symptoms include fatigue, heartburn, stomach aches, back pain, pain during sex, constipation, and changes in the menstrual cycle.
The thyroid gland sits in the front of the neck and regulates metabolism and many other essential functions. The most common and obvious symptom of thyroid cancer is a lump on the neck that continues to grow. Individuals may also notice swelling in the neck, pain in the front of the neck that goes up to the ears, voice changes, trouble swallowing, trouble breathing, and a persistent cough. These symptoms may first be mistaken for the common cold, but will not subside.
Like most cancers, liver cancer develops over time, with symptoms and signs growing worse as the condition progresses. Symptoms common to this type of cancer include unexplainable weight loss, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting. People may also experience abdominal pain, fluid buildup in the abdomen, itchiness, and jaundice. As a result of liver cancer, people often develop high blood calcium levels and low blood sugar, high cholesterol, breast enlargement, and shrinking testicles.
The pancreas is responsible for turning the food we consume into energy and regulating blood sugar. Despite its essential nature, when cancer affects this organ, people typically do not experience symptoms until the malignancy has spread beyond the pancreas. Symptoms, when they do occur, include jaundice, dark urine, greasy stool, itchy skin, poor appetite, abdominal or back pain, nausea, vomiting, liver enlargement, and blood clots.
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