15 Cancer Symptoms Women Ignore
WebMD uncovers common cancer warning signs women often overlook.
No. 3: Breast Changes
Most women know their breasts well, even if they don't do regular
self-exams, and know to be on the lookout for lumps. But that's not the only
breast symptom that could point to cancer. Redness and thickening of the skin on the breast, which could
indicate a very rare but aggressive form of breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer, also needs to be
examined, Linden says. "If you have a rash that persists over weeks, you have
to get it evaluated," she says.
Likewise, if the look of a nipple changes, or if you notice discharge (and
aren’t breastfeeding), see your doctor. "If it's outgoing
normally and turns in," she says, that's not a good sign. "If your nipples are
inverted chronically, no big deal." It's the change in appearance that could be
a worrisome symptom.
If you have breast changes, expect your doctor to take a careful history,
examine the breast, and order tests such as a mammogram, ultrasound, MRI, and perhaps a biopsy.
No. 4: Between-Period Bleeding or Other Unusual Bleeding
''Premenopausal women tend to ignore between-period bleeding," Daly says.
They also tend to ignore bleeding from the GI tract, mistakenly thinking it is
from their period. But between-period bleeding, especially if you are typically
regular, bears checking out, she says. So does bleeding after menopause, as it
could be a symptom of endometrial cancer. GI bleeding
could be a symptom of colorectal cancer.
Think about what's normal for you, says Debbie Saslow, PhD, director of
breast and gynecologic cancer at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta.
"If a woman never spots [between periods] and she spots, it's abnormal for her.
For someone else, it might not be."
"Endometrial cancer is a common gynecologic cancer," Saslow says. "At least
three-quarters who get it have some abnormal bleeding as an early sign."
Your doctor will take a careful history and, depending on the timing of the
bleeding and other symptoms, probably order an ultrasound or biopsy.
No. 5: Skin Changes
Most of us know to look for any changes in moles -- a well-known sign of
cancer. But we should also watch for changes in skin pigmentation, Daly
If you suddenly develop bleeding on your skin or excessive scaling, that
should be checked, too, she says. It's difficult to say how long is too long to
observe skin changes before you go to the doctor, but most experts say not
longer than several weeks.
No. 6: Difficulty Swallowing
If you have difficulty swallowing, you may have already changed your diet so chewing isn't so
difficult, perhaps turning to soups or liquid foods such as protein
But that difficulty could be a sign of a GI cancer, such as in the
esophagus, says Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer at
the American Cancer Society.
Expect your doctor to take a careful history and order tests such as a chest
X-ray or exams of the GI tract.