If you’ve ever searched for symptoms you’ve had on a website like WebMD, you’ve probably shared the experience of seeing cancer as one of the potential results. You also might share the experience of putting it out of your mind and avoiding seeing a doctor like a third of Americans do according to one survey.
And it makes sense; the idea of something as serious as cancer is so scary that for many it’s easier to ignore at first.
But just because you avoid it doesn’t mean that problem will go away. In fact, it could get much worse until your only choice is to go to the doctor. That’s why it’s vital to go to the doctor earlier rather than later. Aside from putting your mind at ease, it could even affect how well things go if cancer is found.
“Early diagnosis usually means early stage which usually means higher cure rate,” explained Dr. Alexander Starr, oncologist and hematologist.
So to help you detect cancer early, we’ll discuss many of these potential symptoms, when to see a doctor, and what else you can do to give yourself the best chances of survival should you ever encounter cancer.
Know the Symptoms — And When To See Your Doctor
Before you can begin to check, it’s important to know what some of the symptoms of cancer are. Depending on the specific cancer, some of the symptoms may include:
- Sores that don’t heal
- Change in bowel or bladder habits
- Unusual bleeding or discharge
- Formation of a lump
- Indigestion or trouble swallowing
- Change in wart or mole
- Nagging cough or hoarseness
- Unexplained weight loss
- Persistent pain, fever or fatigue
Many of these symptoms can be common and do not necessarily indicate cancer. Going to the doctor at the first sign of any ache, pain, or other symptom may be tempting, but it may only result in a doctor finding nothing wrong and sending you back home. Constantly worrying about symptoms that lead to nothing could cause a lot of unnecessary worry and anxiety.
To avoid this, Dr. Starr recommends waiting 1 to 2 weeks before visiting a doctor. Many symptoms can resolve themselves in that time. For example, a lump on the inside of your cheek could be from biting the inside of your mouth and only needs that time to heal. Or a cough or dry throat could be from a dry climate that goes away with the help of a humidifier.
But if any of these symptoms linger beyond 1 or 2 weeks, be sure to see a doctor as soon as possible to figure out whether it’s cancer or another serious condition that needs medical treatment.
And while many symptoms may go away after a week or two, it’s important to note that some symptoms require immediate attention. According to Dr. Starr, you should see a doctor immediately if you find a new lump anywhere on your body or find blood in your stool, urine or spit.
Lastly, if there’s something that feels off in your body but isn’t one of the usual symptoms, be sure to check with your doctor. Because according to Dr. Starr:
“Nobody knows your body better than you.”
Examine Often, Detect Early
As mentioned earlier, it’s important to detect cancer early to increase your chances of being able to cure it. And you can do part of this from the comfort of your own home by performing self-examinations. For women, the National Breast Cancer Foundation recommends performing a breast self-examination once a month. For men, many doctors recommend performing a testicular self-examination about once a month as well.
Beyond these self-examinations, Dr. Starr suggests going to your doctor for mammograms and colonoscopies based off of recommendations made by the American Cancer Society:
“Mammograms at 40 yearly, colonoscopies at 50 every 10 years.”
That way, you can detect these cancers early — and that can make a big difference, according to the American Cancer Society. There’s a 99% 5-year relative survival rate when breast cancer is detected early and hasn’t spread outside of the breast. That rate is much higher when compared to the 28% 5-year relative survival rate found once the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body.
Know Your Family History
Beyond being able to tell you where you got your nose or eyes from, your genes may also predict how prone you are to certain types of cancers. To find out, you can talk to your family to see if you can find any patterns of cancer that have appeared in previous family members. You can also talk to your doctor to ask about genetic testing and see if there are any cancers you’re more susceptible to.
From there, you can act accordingly. For example, if you know skin cancer runs in your family, you’ll know to be extra diligent to make sure you’re getting things like moles checked on a regular basis and that you’re wearing sunscreen whenever you’re in the sun. Or, if you know prostate or breast cancer is a common risk, you’ll be sure to get yourself tested early so you can find any signs of it before it’s too late.
Have No Fear; The Doctor Is Here
Even if your doctor finds that you don’t have cancer, they may be able to catch another condition you didn’t realize you had. For example, Dr. Starr shares that a urine infection can cause blood in urine, and bronchitis can cause hemoptysis — the coughing up of blood.
And while symptoms behind these causes can go away, Dr. Starr strongly recommends still going in to a doctor regardless of what you may think it is.
“It is safer to have a doctor know you have these symptoms so they can be monitored,” he explained.
And even if your symptoms turn out to be cancer, know that you’re not alone. Your friends, family, and your doctor will be here to help you along the trip to ensure you have the best prognosis possible.