Whether it be because the average life expectancy of people in developed nations has reached new highs, or the fact that everything we eat, sit on and breathe is filled with chemicals, the bottom line is that most people reading this will be touched by cancer in their lifetimes. If not a form of cancer that they get themselves or the health of their significant other, cancer is everywhere and the cure for it is thought to be the next holy grail in science. So, let’s take a look at the top 15 signs that you may have cancer as a woman, with the sister article to this being the top 15 signs that you may have cancer as a man. Considering that everyone’s families are filled with both men and women, it’s important to know the warning signs to catch things early (early detection is key!). So, while women’s bodies are always changing, that change is typically a slow/steady process. So, if you notice any of the following, especially abruptly, it’s definitely something you’ll want to get checked out by your doctor(s)!
15. Depression/Belly Pain Combo
Because of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues, many people refuse to get help for depression because they don’t want to be labeled as crazy (or admit that they have a problem). Adding that to the fact that depression issues can make it really hard to ask for help in the first place, and anytime you mix depression and cancer, it’s bad. So, while it’s pretty rare, if you’ve suddenly developed feelings of depression mixed with pain in and around your belly/stomach, it could mean that you have pancreatic cancer. There’s a reason why cancer of the pancreas is the deadlist of cancers and part of it is that it’s really hard to notice until it’s too late, so pay attention to your mood and your belly! If you have a history of depression this sign might slip by you, so definitely keep any random stomach pain in mind, and/or also keep an eye out if your depression either seems worse than usual or feels different from the kind you’ve had before.
Beyond belly (and emotional) pain, cancer as a whole can be extremely painful. In fact, most of the powerful opioids responsible for the opioid epidemic are based on drugs that were meant for cancer patients, as cancer pain is thought to be one of the worst pains known. So, while most aches and pains are a part of getting older and aren’t related to cancer, pain is also a really great warning sign that things are wrong (as that’s what pain is for), so if you have a pain somewhere on/in your body that won’t go away or get better regardless of medication or stretching, then it’s definitely something that you’ll want to talk to your doctor about! As you age pain is just a reality, especially if you’ve broken bones in the past or have accrued any other injury in the past. So, if you start to have pain in areas where you haven’t before or if it’s more intense than it was, definitely talk to your doctor as that can be a sign of cancer.
If you don’t smoke, a cough isn’t something that you should really be afraid of (as it’s typically just a sign of a respiratory sickness that goes away in three to four weeks, max). However, if you’re coughing beyond that amount of time, or finding yourself short of breath or even coughing up blood, it’s obviously a bad sign (especially if you smoke). A cough is typically the most common sign of lung cancer and because lung cancer is notoriously hard to pinpoint (typically until it’s too late), early detection is key and so any changes to your ability to breathe, regardless of whether or not you smoke, is important to pay attention to and report. So, a good rule of thumb is a cough that seemingly comes from nowhere, isn’t part of a larger illness (like a cold or the flu) and that lingers for weeks or months. If that’s the case, definitely talk to your doctor and ask for an X-ray!
In today’s world, it’s hard to ever really feel rested as you’re constantly being texted or emailed about things at work, let alone all the stress in one’s personal life. So, being tired and stressed out is just part of life, but if there’s a “bone deep” kind of fatigue that you feel like you just can’t shake, it’s something that’s worth talking to your doctor about. Fatigue is a major warning sign of a ton of different cancers, so if you’ve taken some time off of work to catch up on sleep and it didn’t help, while it’s not a guaranteed sign, it’s definitely one of the early indicators that most people ignore because they’re already stressed enough and don’t really want to deal with an illness on top of that. Unfortunately, cancer waits for no one, or plan so if you’re yawning while reading this make an appointment with your doctor!
A fever is always not a good sign but it’s not typically something that makes you worry about your life, at least today. While everyone reading this has had a fever at some point, most people don’t know what a fever is or why it’s happening and because it’s actually your body attempting to burn a sickness out of itself, it can be a great indicator of any number of issues. So, obviously, since fevers are mostly associated with virus’ and bacteria, they should go away after a couple of days or with the assistance of medication. However, if you have a persistent fever there’s a reason that that medicine tells you to go to the hospital after X number of days and that’s because an on-going fever can mean blood cancer or leukemia. So, if you’ve had a fever for more than a week, it’s something worth the drive to the doctor for.
10. Mouth Changes
While everyone needs to pay attention to mouth changes, if you’re one of millions of people in the Western world that uses tobacco (smoking or chewing), or even drinks a lot of alcohol, changes to your mouth may be a harbinger of a terrible, terrible form of cancer that can literally eat away at your whole face. Sound scary? It is, and it should be, as one trip down the Google Image search that is “Mouth cancer” will make you throw your smokes into the river. So, keep an eye out for white, red, gray or yellow patches inside your mouth or on your lips. Be especially vigilant if you’re the type to get canker or cold sores, as you may mistake a cancerous lesion with one of those. While you may want to talk to your dentist about mouth problems, definitely bring them up to your doctor, as well.
There’s an entire multi-billion dollar industry surrounding people with heartburn, and as men get older and deal with the stress’ of life, it’s something that many go to bed with every night and think very little of. The key to whether or not it’s something to really worry about is if the changes you’ve made to your diet, drinking habits or stress levels don’t improve the situation. The thing about heartburn is that while it’s a symptom for stomach and/or throat cancer, it’s also something that can cause cancer (in the esophagus, for example) by spreading acid where it shouldn’t be. So, while we’ve been conditioned to really just take a few tums at night and hit the hay, it’s something that you do need to keep an eye on. While it’s really awful to have to deal with heartburn it’s sort of a blessing in disguise. A lot of symptoms of cancer are hard to detect as you can’t really feel them, so while it’s a literal pain in the neck to have consistent heartburn it’s also something that you’re not going to ignore or miss. So, I guess that’s a good thing?
8. Unexpected Weight Loss
Most of us could stand to lose a pound or two and while it’d sound sort of amazing to lose weight without trying (or changing one’s diet or exercise routine), weight loss without those changes is often a sign that something is wrong in any number of systems in your body. Typically unexplained weight loss can mean problems with one’s thyroid and while that doesn’t always mean cancer it’s something that can lead to that (and a ton of other issues) so if you’ve lost 10 pounds recently without making any changes it’s something you’ll want to talk to your doctor about as it can also mean problems with your pancreas, stomach or lungs. This is something that you’ll definitely begin to notice and if you haven’t changed your diet but are beginning to appear gaunt, definitely talk to your doctor! There’s a reason why they weigh you before every meeting (other than shame, of course)!
7. Trouble Swallowing
Everything in your body is connected, so it may not come as a huge surprise that many of the items on this list are intertwined. Trouble swallowing can mean any number of things, and people often don’t go a year or even six month period without having a sore throat from one thing or another. However, if your sore throat is severe enough that it’s hard for you to eat or drink and especially if it’s combined with weight loss or vomiting, it’s something that you’ll want to get checked out right away. Severe sore throats may be linked to throat or stomach cancers, so while the exams to test for stomach issues (especially) aren’t very fun, neither is dying from throat or stomach cancer. This is another symptom that is super hard to deal with and noticeable (like heartburn) and is thus a blessing in disguise as it can help you detect cancer earlier than other symptoms on this list.
6. Changes in Lymph Nodes
Most women have heard of lymph nodes but don’t really know what they do or even where they are, so it’s important to first identify where they are before adding that to the list of places you may want to check out each month to avoid cancer. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped glands found in the neck and armpits (and groin, and other places), that are often hard to feel unless there’s something wrong. Tenderness or swelling in your neck, armpit or groin can often mean lymph node issues and when your nodes are swollen you’ll know it and it often means bad things. Generally, it just means that you’re sick and that your body’s immune system is busy but changes to your nodes can also be triggered by a few cancers, which is why your doctors feel your neck when you go in for your yearly physical. While it’s not necessarily something you need to get checked out right away (as there are multiple causes for swollen nodes), if the swelling doesn’t go away or get better in two to four weeks, consult your doctor.
5. Blood in the Bathroom
The good thing about a healthy trip to the bathroom is that it often means that your systems are in order, from your bladder to your kidneys and your colon (or intestines in general), if any of those are out of whack it’s something you should start to notice upon trips (or frequent, returned trips) to the bathrooms. If you notice any blood at any time, that’s obviously not normal and is something that you shouldn’t just wait to get checked out. Often-times, especially if it’s a number two situation, there can be bleeding at or around the rectum, but it’s something that can mean that you have any number of cancers as well, so it’s better to get it checked out than to just ignore.
4. Skin Changes
People don’t realize how important skin is, as an organ in and of itself, it helps keep your body safe from pathogens while also basically being a barometer for your overall health. Unfortunately, it also is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths as unprotected exposure to the sun can lead to a number of skin cancers, with melanoma being the most feared and deadly. So, even if you don’t spend a lot of time in the sun make sure that you do a regular inventory of moles or spots as any change in size, shape or color (or appearance of new moles) is a sign that something bad is happening. Most skin cancers arrive from NEW moles, ones that haven’t been with you all your life, so keep an eye out for those and for those of us with moles all over, you might want to ask for help in finding and keeping track of moles on your back, as well. The good news is that for skin cancer there’s not a lot of wait time for biopsy results, so you can avoid the whole waiting period that’s no fun for anyone, as well!
3. Bleeding In-Between Periods
If this list prove anything, it’s that being a woman can be a nightmare. A large part of that is the fact that a lot of the symptoms for cancers mirror the already crummy parts of being a woman. Bleeding is part and parcel of that, but luckily by the time women are (mostly) old enough to develop the cancers that’d lead to bleeding, they’re also really intuned with their cycle and know when they’re supposed bleed each month. So, if you’re still getting periods let doctors know if you’re bleeding or spotting between periods and if you’re in menopause definitely let your doctors know if you’re still bleeding as that can be a sign of endometrial cancer (which is a cancer of the lining of the uterus). Bleeding after menopause is never normal and should be checked right away.
The problem with a lot of symptoms is that they mirror other regular changes to a woman’s body, which makes them and the cancers behind them extremely hard to detect. So, while most women are used to feeling bloated for at least a few days a month, bloating can be a sign of all sorts of cancers (like breast, colon, gastrointestinal, ovarian, pancreatic and/or uterine). So, what’s the difference? Well, the good news is that most bloating goes away on its own after a few days while troubling bloating is something that either persists or gets worse over time. So the fact that women are said to be “Natural bloaters” can also be a positive because you’re also used to bloating by now, so if it does feel different it’s something that’s worth bringing up to your doctor!
1. Breast Changes
The breast cancer industry has done an incredible job of getting the word out there, so much so that some people believe that Breast Cancer gets too much “press” as the cancer of women, when clearly so many others exist. The sad reality is, though, that around 1 in 4 women will deal with breast cancer at some point in their lives and while there’s no single cause recent studies show that birth control pills have a strong relationship with breast cancer. So, it’s obviously something that you want to keep an eye on and monthly breast exams are a part of that, beyond those exams (and the changes they help detect) you’ll want to keep an eye out for any skin dimpling or puckering on the breast, nipples that turn inward, nipple discharge or redness or scaling on your nipple. Early detection is key!