When it comes to aches, pains and other health problems, just because something seems minor doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously. In fact, new research finds that even common ailments can actually be the first warning signs of cancer. In a survey of 1,729 adults over the age of 50 in the U.K published in PLOS ONE, respondents evaluated how serious they perceived a list of 17 ailments—10 of which were actually indicators of cancer. They also indicated whether they’d experienced any of these symptoms recently and if so, how they actually handled it.
Turns out, many people aren’t paying as much attention to warning signs as they could be, says study author Katriina Whitaker, a senior research fellow from University College London. “Some people don’t think they [the symptoms] are serious, and cancer does not leap to mind.”
While for the vast majority, “these warning signs will not indicate cancer,” Whitaker says. “For a few, they might, and so going to the doctor sooner could save your life. If you have at least one of these symptoms and it hasn’t gone away, go to your GP for advice,” Whitaker says. Here are 10 symptoms to take seriously.
1.Lump or bumps
It’s best to have any strange lumps checked out by a doctor. In the survey, 7.5% of people reported an unexplained lump. While 67% did contact their doctors, 77% didn’t think it could be a sign of something more serious.
It’s cold and flu season, so coughing can feel like a given. However, if your cough persists, though, it could indicate laryngeal, lung or thyroid cancer, or lymphoma. This was the most common symptom among survey participants. “We know coughs and colds are everywhere at the moment and we’re not suggesting everyone with a cough goes to their doctor,” Whitaker said. “But if you have a symptom that doesn’t go away, or is unusual, don’t be afraid to go to your doctor for advice.”
3.Change in bowel habits
In Whitaker’s study, 18% of people experienced changes in the timing, amount, or size of their bowels. While these disruptions are usually caused by certain foods or medication, if you notice it happens regularly over time it could also be a sign of colon cancer.
4.Variation in bladder activity
Because urinary tract infections are common in women, this symptom is often disregarded as just another UTI. But whether you’re male or female, if you notice blood in your urine, experience sudden urgency or feel pain while going, definitely bring it up with your doctor to rule out cancers of the bladder, kidney or prostate.
Persistent pain is your body’s way of signaling a problem, and that could be anything from nothing…to bone cancer or ovarian cancer. The American Cancer Society says that pain from cancer typically means it has spread…a good reason not to be a stoic and to make an appointment with your physician. One striking finding from Whitaker’s survey: only about 40% of people in the study were even concerned that pain could be a serious issue.
6.A long-lasting sore throat
A sore throat may be just another winter wow, but a persistent one could point to something more severe, such as laryngeal cancer or throat cancer. Of those surveyed, nearly 78% didn’t think throat woes were serious.
7.Unexplained weight loss
The American Cancer Society reports that unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more could be a first sign of cancer. This warning sign is common in those with pancreatic, stomach, lung, or esophageal cancers.
Throat constriction—while an uncommon symptom in this survey—could be a nervous or immune system issue, or a harbinger conditions including cancer in the esophagus, stomach or throat.
Coughing up blood can signal lung cancer; blood in the stool could be a sign of colon or rectal cancer. Women who experience unexplained vaginal bleeding should be checked for cervical or endometrial cancer. A bloody discharge from the nipple can signal breast cancer, while blood in the urine can mean you have bladder or kidney cancers. Unusual bleeding can occur during any phase of cancer, and warrants a visit to your doctor.
10.Changes in skin moles
Of the 7% of respondents that reported a change in a mole, freckle or wart’s appearance, only 47% contacted their doctors. What’s more troubling, however: more than 88% didn’t think the symptom was serious, though it could be indicative of skin cancer—many of which are treatable.