Signs, symptoms to heed

Cancer is so complex that even the most veteran of cancer researchers cannot fully explain the disease. Progress toward the diagnosis and treatment of cancer continues to be made, but there’s still no telling if an individual will or won’t get this potentially deadly disease.

One of the many things the medical community can say with certainty regarding cancer is that treatment is most effective when the cancer is found early. Melanoma skin cancer, for instance, can be easily removed if it’s detected early and has not grown into the skin. In fact, the five-year survival rate, which indicates the percentage of people who live at least five years after diagnosis, for those whose melanoma skin cancer is detected early enough to remove the melanoma is nearly 100 percent. However, if that melanoma has already spread to other parts of the body by the time it’s detected, the five-year survival rate is below 20 percent.

While the disparity between survival rates is not as severe for all cancers as it is for melanoma skin cancers, early detection is still imperative when it comes to beating cancer. Part of the reason cancer is not always detected early is that it doesn’t always make its presence felt until it has already reached an advanced stage. Pancreatic cancer, for instance, does not usually cause any noticeable symptoms in its early stages. Instead, the first noticeable signs of pancreatic cancer can be back or belly pain. At this point, the cells in the pancreas have grown and begun to press on nearby nerves and organs. While these might be the first signs of pancreatic cancer, by this point the cancer is typically at an advanced stage.

Still, knowing the signs and symptoms of cancer is a great way for men and women to catch the disease early when it’s most treatable. Though the following signs and symptoms are not always indicative of cancer, their presence should be enough for adults to consult their physicians.

• Fatigue: Extreme tiredness that does not improve even with ample rest could be a sign that cancer is growing. In certain cancers, including leukemia, this happens in the early stages. In addition, some colon or stomach cancers cause blood loss, which can result in fatigue.

• Pain: Early on, bone cancers often manifest themselves through pain. Back pain can be a symptom of ovarian cancer or cancer of the colon or rectum. Unfortunately, when pain is a result of cancer, the cancer has already begun to metastasize.

• Unexplained weight loss: One of the first signs of cancer might be the unexplained loss of 10 pounds or more. This is most common with cancers of the pancreas, stomach, esophagus or lung.

• Skin changes: Cancers of the skin and other cancers can cause certain changes in the skin. Jaundice, when the skin and eyes turn a yellowish color, is one such change. The skin can also redden, itch or darken, a condition known as hyperpigmentation. Excessive hair growth on the skin is another skin change that might indicate the presence of cancer.

• Fever: A common side effect of cancer, fever most often happens after the cancer has metastasized. Cancers that affect the immune system often cause fever as the body finds it more difficult to fight infection. In certain blood cancers, including leukemia or lymphoma, fever is an early sign of cancer.

Should any of the aforementioned signs or symptoms appear, people should consult their physicians immediately.

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