Taking Care of Your Health


Warning Signs of Cancer

February 04, 2022

Doctor Washington Patient

Early detection is a major weapon in the fight against cancer. Through a combination of patient vigilance and routine screening tests, many tumors can be caught early, when there are more treatment options available.

By familiarizing yourself with your body and learning what is normal for you, you will be more likely to notice possible warning signs of cancer. As a general rule of thumb, if you have an unusual symptom that lasts longer than a few weeks, you should have it checked out by a medical professional. Most cancer symptoms can have many other, less serious causes, but it’s important to find out for sure what’s going on so you can receive prompt and appropriate treatment if necessary.

Warning signs of cancer can include:

An unusual mole or other skin changes

Graphic showing ABCD of melanoma signsThe most common sign of melanoma skin cancer is a mole that changes in shape, color or size. Check with a doctor if you notice any skin changes that concern you. When examining your skin, remember the mnemonic ABCDE, which stands for:

  • Asymmetry – A mole that is non-uniform in shape (one half doesn’t match the other)
  • Border – A mole with irregular or blurred edges
  • Color – A mole that has shade variations or inconsistencies
  • Diameter – A mole that is larger than a pencil eraser (approximately 6mm)
  • Evolving – A mole that bleeds, grows or otherwise changes over time

A thickening or lump in a breast or elsewhere

Swollen lymph nodes are common and usually accompany a viral or bacterial infection. However, if the illness resolves but the swelling does not, it’s important to see a physician. Any new mass that doesn’t go away should be evaluated. In addition to a lump, other breast changes to watch for include dimpled or discolored skin, nipple inversion and unusual discharge. Remember, breast cancer can affect both women and men.

A nagging cough or hoarseness

A new cough or vocal hoarseness that persists longer than two weeks could be a sign of lung cancer. Other symptoms to pay close attention to include frequent respiratory infections, coughing up blood-tinged mucus, shortness of breath, wheezing and chest pain.

A change in bowel or urinary habits

Female patient with colon cancerSeveral types of cancer, including colon cancer and bladder cancer, can cause bowel or bladder changes. Symptoms to watch for include frequent or urgent bowel movements, persistent constipation or diarrhea, black or bloody stool, tarry stool, frequent or urgent urination and blood-tinged urine. These symptoms may be accompanied by unintended weight loss, overwhelming fatigue, and gastrointestinal distress, such as gas, bloating or cramps.

Unusual vaginal bleeding, discharge or pelvic pain

Many women occasionally have irregular menstrual periods or cramps. But persistent cycle changes or pain could signal cervical, endometrial (uterine) or ovarian cancer. Bleeding after menopause is a particularly important red flag that warrants prompt evaluation by a medical professional.

If you would like more information about the warning signs of cancer, you are welcome to request an appointment with a specialist at Moffitt Cancer Center. To do so, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online. As Florida’s top cancer hospital, Moffitt has transformed the patient care model, and we will connect you with a cancer expert within one day.