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15 Cancer Symptoms Women Ignore

WebMD uncovers common cancer warning signs women often overlook.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Women tend to be more vigilant than men about getting recommended health checkups and cancer screenings, according to studies and experts.

They're generally more willing, as well, to get potentially worrisome symptoms checked out, says Mary Daly, MD, oncologist and head of the department of clinical genetics at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

But not always. Younger women, for instance, tend to ignore symptoms that could point to cancer. "They have this notion that cancer is a problem of older people," Daly tells WebMD. And they're often right, but plenty of young people get cancer, too.

Of course, some women are as skilled as men are at switching to denial mode. "There are people who deliberately ignore their cancer symptoms," says Hannah Linden, MD, a medical oncologist. She is a joint associate member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle. It's usually denial, but not always, she says. "For some, there is a cultural belief that cancer is incurable, so why go there."

Talking about worrisome symptoms shouldn't make people overreact, says Ranit Mishori, MD, an assistant professor of family medicine at the Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. "I don't want to give people the impression they should look for every little thing," she says.

With that healthy balance between denial and hypochondria in mind, WebMD asked experts to talk about the symptoms that may not immediately make a woman worry about cancer, but that should be checked out. Read on for 15 possible cancer symptoms women often ignore.

No. 1: Unexplained Weight Loss

Many women would be delighted to lose weight without trying. But unexplained weight loss -- say 10 pounds in a month without an increase in exercise or a decrease in food intake -- should be checked out, Mishori says.

"Unexplained weight loss is cancer unless proven not," she says. It could, of course, turn out to be another condition, such as an overactive thyroid.

Expect your doctor to run tests to check the thyroid and perhaps order a CT scan of different organs. The doctor needs to "rule out the possibilities, one by one," Mishori says.

No. 2: Bloating

Bloating is so common that many women just live with it. But it could point to ovarian cancer. Other symptoms of ovarian cancer include abdominal pain or pelvic pain, feeling full quickly -- even when you haven't eaten much -- and urinary problems, such as having an urgent need to go to the bathroom.

If the bloating occurs almost every day and persists for more than a few weeks, you should consult your physician. Expect your doctor to take a careful history and order a CT scan and blood tests, among others.

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