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10 Cancer Symptoms Women Shouldn't Ignore

You don't need to panic, but you shouldn't assume these signs are 'nothing,' either. Plus three ways to lower your risk.

7. Persistent Cough

Any persistent cough -- one that lasts more than 2 or 3 weeks and is not due to an allergy or upper respiratory infection, or one that produces blood -- needs to be checked by your doctor.

If your cough may be caused by smoking or being exposed to secondhand smoke, get it checked out. "Smoking is the number one cancer killer of women," says Karlan. 

You don't have to be a smoker to be at risk. The majority of lung cancers that nonsmokers get also occur in women. Expect your doctor to order a chest X-ray and perhaps a CT scan

8. Change in Lymph Nodes

"If you feel hard lymph nodes in your neck or under your arm, you should be seen by a doctor," Runowicz says. 

Swollen, firm lymph nodes are often caused by an infection. 

But lymphoma or lung, breast, head, or neck cancer that has spread can also show up as an enlarged lymph node. Expect a physical exam and possibly a biopsy. 

9. Fatigue

The American Cancer Society defines fatigue as "extreme tiredness that does not get better with rest." So if you're often fatigued, see your doctor. Leukemia, colon, or stomach cancer -- which can cause blood loss -- can result in fatigue.

"Fatigue can be a serious problem and it's easy to ignore," Runowicz says. 

Your doctor will most likely do a physical exam and order blood tests to check your thyroid and rule out a thyroid condition, she says. 

10. Skin Changes

Keep an eye on any changes you notice on your skin all over your body, and call your doctor right away if anything concerns you. 

Sores in the mouth that don't heal -- especially if you smoke or drink alcohol -- may be signs of oral cancer and should be checked by your doctor. 

Note any sores or irritated skin in the vaginal area. "A non-healing vulvar lesion could be a sign of vulvar cancer," Runowicz says.

Changes in moles or pigmented lesions on the vulva can also point to cancer. "Vulvar melanoma can frequently be overlooked and can have a very aggressive course," Karlan says. A simple biopsy can be done in your doctor's office if necessary.

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