20 Cancer Signs People Ignore Until It’s Too Late

Let’s talk about the “Big C”. Now, don’t get spooked! The goal here isn’t to turn you into a paranoid WebMD junkie, self-diagnosing every ache as a terminal illness. But, much like horror movies, there are always signs that something wicked this way comes. Here are 20 cancer signs people often shrug off as ‘just one of those things.’

Persistent Coughs

Don’t Overlook These 15 Cancer Signs Until It’s Too Late
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This could be a symptom of lung cancer or laryngeal, throat, or thyroid cancer. Dr. Theresa Emory, a pathologist, states, “Many patients mistake a cancer-related cough for something like an allergy or bronchitis, which can sometimes lead to late-stage cancer diagnosis.”

Change in the Appearance of a Mole

14 Cancer Symptoms Doctors Don't Want You to Ignore
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According to Dr. Ellen Marmur, a dermatologist at Mount Sinai Hospital, “If you notice a mole that’s growing, changing, asymmetrical, or has multiple colors, it’s time to get a skin check.” Additionally, the American Cancer Society suggests following the ABCDE rule—detecting asymmetry, border irregularity, color that is not uniform, diameter greater than 6mm, and evolving size, shape, or color—as a guide to spotting potential warning signs.

Unexplained Weight Loss

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Losing 10 pounds or more without a change in diet or exercise could signal a problem. Weight loss is a common symptom in people with pancreatic, stomach, esophageal, or lung cancer. Dr. Theresa Wicklin Gillespie, a professor at Emory University School of Medicine, states, “This is the body’s response to not having enough energy to maintain normal activities and growth.”

Frequent Headaches

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If the headaches worsen in the morning or are exacerbated with activities like bending over or coughing, it might be a cause for concern. The American Brain Tumor Association emphasizes that it’s often the combination of headaches with other symptoms, such as unexplained nausea or vision problems, that warrants medical attention.

Unusual Bleeding

14 Cancer Symptoms Doctors Don't Want You to Ignore
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In lung cancer, one might cough up blood; in colon or rectal cancer, blood may appear in the stool; and abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge could be a sign of cervical or endometrial cancer. Any such unusual bleeding or discharge should be checked by a doctor right away.

Difficulty Swallowing

Don’t Overlook These 15 Cancer Signs Until It’s Too Late
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This common issue can be a sign of esophageal cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Dysphagia often starts as a slight discomfort when swallowing and gradually worsens over time, eventually making it difficult to consume solid foods or liquids.

Chronic or Unexplained Wheezing

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Continuous wheezing, especially when accompanied by symptoms like coughing up blood or difficulty breathing, could be a red flag for lung cancer. This is particularly crucial for smokers or those exposed to secondhand smoke, as they are at a higher risk.


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Prolonged yellowing of the skin may indicate pancreatic cancer or liver disease. When cancerous tumors form in the pancreas or liver, they can obstruct the bile duct, causing a buildup of bilirubin—a yellow-colored substance—resulting in jaundice. Dr. Susan Besser, a primary care physician at Mercy Personal Physicians in Baltimore, emphasizes, “If you notice a yellow color to your skin or the whites of your eyes, see your doctor.”

Fatigue and Lethargy

14 Cancer Symptoms Doctors Don't Want You to Ignore
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Persistent and unexplained fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest could also be an early sign of certain types of cancer, like leukemia or colon cancer. These symptoms occur because cancer cells consume a good portion of the body’s energy supply, or they might release substances that alter the body’s metabolism, causing fatigue.

Changes in Nails

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It’s important to take note of any discoloration, thickening, or thinning of nails. For instance, dark lines beneath the nail should be checked out immediately, as they may be a form of skin cancer known as acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM). As per the British Medical Journal, around 35% of people with lung cancer experience clubbing.

Blood in Urine

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Although hematuria could be a sign of less serious issues like infections or kidney stones, it could also indicate bladder or kidney cancer. Blood may not always be visible and may only be detected through a urine test.

Excessive Bruising

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Leukemia cells can displace healthy blood cells, leading to a decrease in platelets, which are responsible for blood clotting. This results in easy bruising or bleeding. A study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that 35% of patients with Leukemia had presented excessive bruising or bleeding as an initial symptom before diagnosis.

Bowel Issues

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A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association states that prolonged and unexplained bowel problems, combined with other symptoms like weight loss or fatigue, significantly increase the risk of a cancer diagnosis. 


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Persistent bloating, especially when accompanied by abdominal pain, can be indicative of certain types of cancer, such as ovarian or colon cancer. According to Dr. Robyn Andersen of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, persistent bloating is one of the most commonly overlooked symptoms in ovarian cancer patients.

Sore Breasts

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According to the American Cancer Society, around 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. Experts emphasize that new lumps or masses, swelling, skin irritation, nipple pain or retraction, and scaled, red, or thickened skin on the breast could signal the disease.

Eye Pain

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Persistent eye pain can be a sign of ocular melanoma – a rare form of cancer that originates in the cells that produce pigmentation. While it accounts for only about 5% of all melanoma cases, early detection is crucial to successful treatment.

Bone Pain

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Persistent or unusual pain could be a sign of cancer, such as bone or lung cancer metastasizing to the bone. Pain might be continuous or come and go, often worse at night. 

Swollen Lymph Nodes

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Swelling accompanied by persistent fever, night sweats, or unexplained weight loss could indicate a more severe condition, such as lymphoma. Dr. Therese Bartholomew Bevers, MD, of the MD Anderson Cancer Center, notes that “while a lump could be benign, persistent lumps or swelling should not be ignored.”

Chronic Pain

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According to the American Cancer Society, unexplained pain lasting for a month or more could potentially be a symptom of an early stage of cancer. It might be a dull ache, a sharp stab, or a throbbing sensation, but the key point is that it lingers and is irregular.

Speech Difficulty

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This may manifest as frequently losing your train of thought, finding it challenging to articulate your ideas, or even slurring your words. According to the American Cancer Society, these could be signs of a tumor affecting the language pathways in your brain.

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