Women live longer than men, so it’s no surprise that they’re more likely to seek out medical attention when they’re not feeling well. But it’s easy to get caught up in the hectic pace of everyday life, making it less likely to pay attention to a small lump, slight cough or a change to your skin when it appears.
That said, only you know your body best. When something doesn’t seem right, see your doctor because even minor changes could be an early indicator of cancer.
“It’s extremely important for women to get regular annual checkups, particularly women 40 and above,” says Dr. Igor Medic, a medical oncologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “Every woman this age should have regular health screenings including a yearly mammogram and a full breast exam.”
He also encourages women to check and become familiar with their breasts beginning in their 20s, and to report any unusual changes to their doctor.
According to the World Health Organization, early detection of cancer greatly increases the chances for successful treatment.
“Oncology as a science should have one ultimate goal, and that’s to prevent cancer from ever developing. This is still not always the case, so the next most important goal is to diagnose cancer as early as possible. This is true for all types of cancer,” says Dr. Medic.
“Unfortunately, many cancers don’t have early warning signs. In a significant number of patients with new diagnosis of cancer, early symptoms and signs emerge when the disease is in its advanced stages. So it’s important to be aware and address alerts that our body is sending us as soon as possible,” he adds.
Here are seven common health warnings women shouldn’t ignore:
- A lump or mass in your breast
Whether painless or not, see a doctor immediately as it could be a sign of breast cancer. Other signs include breast pain or swelling; swollen glands in the armpits; nipple discharge; or unusual breast skin changes such as dimpling.
- Postmenopausal vaginal bleeding or significant change in a menstrual bleeding pattern
These symptoms could indicate gynecological cancers of the cervix, uterus or ovaries.
- Abdominal bloating or distention
Occasional bloating should go away, but if it’s constant, get checked. Bloating could be a sign of colon, gastrointestinal, ovarian, pancreatic or uterine cancer.
- Unintentional weight loss
If you haven’t been trying to lose weight, a drop of 10 pounds or more may be a red flag for several types of cancer.
- Swollen or painful lymph nodes
Lymph nodes are located throughout the body and help fight infection, but can also indicate something else is going on, including cancer.
- Skin changes
Change in the size, shape or color of a mole, or new skin irregularities could indicate skin cancer.
- Coughing long after an illness
A cough associated with an upper respiratory infection should go away in a couple of weeks. If it lingers, see your doctor. It could be an early sign of lung cancer.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Igor Medic about cancer for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at email@example.com.