10 Warning Signs Of Cancer Women Shouldn’t Ignore
- 6 mins read
- Health Conditions
- Written by: Reshma Pathare
We know how timely screenings can play a pivotal role in early detection of cancers even before symptoms appear. But you too can pick up on early warning signs of cancer by paying close attention to what your body is telling you.
Types of female cancer
By now, we know what is cancer, and how cancer is a growing risk for people (both men, and women) all around the world. Severe dietary changes, environmental factors, rising stress levels, exposure to pollution are just some of the factors that are compounding the problem by leaps & bounds with every passing year. The WHO predicts that by 2040, there will be 30 million new cases of various cancers, especially in low- & middle-income countries.
Women are primarily at risk of getting five types of cancer specifically for their gender. The top types of female cancer include breast cancer, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, skin cancer, and other gynaecological cancers. Gynaecologic cancers include cervical cancer, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, vaginal cancer, vulvar cancer, uterine cancer, or fallopian tube cancer.
Of course, these apart, there are cancers of the blood, brain, kidney and such other, that are also common to men and women both.
Here’s some data for you to sample on the top types of female cancer:
- According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 2020 reports, breast cancer occupied the highest chunk among all prevalent cancers in the South East Asian region, with an incidence of 13.5% and mortality rate of 9.7%.
- On a global level, WHO reported that 13% among the overall detected cancers were attributable to infections caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus, Epstein-Barr virus and Helicobacter pylori. Of these, HPV infections put women at a substantial risk for cervical cancer.
- According to a research article published on National Library of Medicine, 70% of urban Indonesian women have inadequate knowledge and disinterested attitude towards breast cancer awareness.
- Ovarian cancer is the 4th most common cancer in Malaysia.
- The Global Cancer Observatory’s March 2021 report shows that cancer of the breast (29.5%) and cervix-uteri (18.5%) were the two most prevalent cancers among women of all ages in the continent of Africa.
What happens if you ignore early signs of cancer
While the aforementioned factors compound the probability of getting afflicted with cancer, the WHO also stresses on paying heed to common symptoms and going in for early detection tests.
You must know that 30-50% of cancers can be prevented from becoming life-threatening by avoiding the risk factors, taking timely action, and by paying attention to bodily changes.
So, it is extremely important that you take any warning signs that your body is trying to give seriously, and act on it.
10 warning signs of cancer women should pay attention to
Following are 10 warning signs that women should pay due attention to, to prevent oneself from becoming a victim of the dreaded ‘C’ word:
1.Abnormal vaginal bleeding
A pertinent red flag signalling the prevalence of any gynaecological cancer in a woman’s body, is abnormal vaginal bleeding. If you suddenly start bleeding after sex, or, see heavy spotting between two periods, or, start getting much heavier periods than you normally do, it is best to see your doctor to check for cancer of the uterus, cervix, endometrium, ovaries and so on.
If you observe sudden postmenopausal bleeding, or hot flashes symptoms, then too you should consult a doctor immediately, to rule out any chances of a developing cancer.
2.Changes in vaginal discharge
A non-smelly, white vaginal discharge is a common indicator of a woman’s good health. However, if you start getting discharge which is foul-smelling, watery, streaked with blood, or with small chunks of necrotic tissue owing to infections, it is important to get yourself checked for uterine cancer symptoms, endometrial cancer, vaginal or cervical cancer symptoms, and for signs of ovarian cancer.
Of course, changes in vaginal discharge may also happen due to sexually-transmitted diseases, yeast infections, or even pregnancy.
But whatever the reason may be, it is best to not ignore the changes. Since a woman’s body undergoes multiple changes, it is also advisable to get a Pap Smear test done every three years from the age of 21 to 65 to indicate the presence of any infection or gynaecologic pre-cancer that might lead to the development of Cervical Cancer.
3.Appearance of unusual moles or changes to present moles
Exposure to UV radiation, pollution and sunlight can lead to skin cancers in women. An early warning sign of this cancer entering your body is the sudden appearance of warts, moles, and lumps specially on areas exposed to the sun. The ABCDE rule will help flag melanoma (a fatal type of skin cancer) well in time.
In keeping with the ABCDE rule, look out for Asymmetry in moles or birthmarks; changes in the Borders of existent moles, warts and birthmarks; changes to the colour of moles, warts and birthmarks; increase in Diameter of moles; and Evolution in the form of moles.
4. Lumps, Swelling, and other changes to the breasts
It is advisable to check your breasts periodically for the presence of any lumps in the breast or underarms, swelling in the breasts, underarms, or near the collarbone, persistent pain or tenderness in the breasts, discharge from the nipples, changes such as itching, burning, and dimpling to the nipples, and difference in the contouring, size and texture of both breasts.
All of these could be early signs of breast cancer. Additionally, women above 40 should go in for an annual mammogram for early detection of breast cancer, and to rule out any sign of breast cancer. The periodicity can become every two years after the age of 55.
5. Changes to bowel patterns
Sudden changes to one’s bowel consistency and patterns can indicate being affected by cancer of the colon or rectum (or both). Signs of this cancer do not show up immediately; hence, once they do show up, do not waste time in consulting a doctor.
Bleeding from the anus or bloody stools, excessive gas or pain in the bowels, persistent constipation or diarrhoea, feeling bloated even after passing stools, and unusual fatigue are some warning signs that shouldn’t be ignored.
6. Changes to peeing patterns
Women commonly suffer from urinary tract infections (UTIs), which cause temporary changes in their peeing patterns and habits. However, if you continue to feel a burning sensation or pain while peeing, if you start urinating more frequently than ever, keep feeling a fullness to the bladder even after passing urine, or start seeing streaks/spots of pink, red, or brown in your urine, it is advisable to get checked for bladder cancer, kidney cancer, or upper urinary tract cancer.
While these cancers used to be relatively rare in women, smoking is causing a rise in the same. According to National Institutes of Health, 50% of women suffering from bladder cancer are smokers.
7. Constant fatigue
Any type of cancer feeds on the nutrition that your body gets (through food) to nourish itself. Hence, if you notice a pattern whereby you start feeling excessively and constantly tired even after ample rest, and eating proper meals, it is best to get yourself checked for the presence of a lurking cancer.
Fatigue after a lot of work or immense physical labour is different from the fatigue you’ll see in the grips of cancer. Finding it difficult to get out of bed, or even do basic, lightweight tasks can be markers to cancer.
8. Unexplained pain
Cancers are an unusual growth and thus a foreign element in one’s body. While they may begin painless, if left undetected beyond a certain point and allowed to feed to the nourishment your body is getting, the cancers may start causing unexplained pain in the parts of the body they’re affecting.
That’s because, as they grow, the cancers start pressing against the organs, bones, soft tissues, or nerves. If you start feeling pressing pain, cramps, throbs, or aches, consult a doctor immediately. Among other things, it may be due to undetected, underlying cancer.
For instance, if you are plagued with constant pelvic pain, it could very well be a sign of a developing cervical cancer, which if diagnosed at the right time boasts a 92 per cent curable rate. At the same time, continuous back pain could be another cervical cancer symptom you should not ignore.
To know more about the warning signs of cervical cancer, download our special Cervical Cancer E-Book.
9. Excessive and rapid weight loss
While losing weight is usually a happy phenomenon for women from the aesthetic point of view, it should raise your alerts if you start losing weight very rapidly and also begin feeling fatigued alongside.
So, how does cancer cause weight loss? Well, cancer cells consume more energy than healthy cells, thus making the body burn its calories more rapidly. Also, the body releases cytokines to fight against cancer. Cytokines interfere with the normal metabolism and toggle with the hormones controlling one’s hunger, thus also leading to rapid weight loss.
While weight loss might raise its head faster in cancers of the oesophagus, pancreas and lung, at times, uterine or ovarian cancers may also cause a person to eat less due to the tumour pressing against the stomach, thus killing the desire to eat properly.
10. Persistent cough
With the usage of tobacco and allied products, especially cigarettes being on the rise among women, the chances of them getting afflicted by cancers of the lung, oesophagus, and oral cavity among others, are on the rise.
A common warning sign of these cancers is a persistent cough that refuses to go away in spite of taking medicines. If the cough keeps worsening in intensity, if you start seeing blood in the spit or phlegm, if your voice becomes hoarser, if you begin experiencing pain while swallowing, or, if your chest starts hurting while coughing, do see the doctor to check for the aforementioned cancers.
If addressed well in time, most cancers can be prevented from growing and becoming metastatic. Hence, do not ignore these warning signs; instead, be alert to any unusual changes in your physiology, and take due corrective steps to help yourself not fall victim to any sort of cancer.