You’re worried about something that might be cancer, but you don’t know for sure. Maybe you’ve found a lump or swelling somewhere in your body, are having unusual bleeding, or you’ve noticed a change in a mole. Your body has changed in some way that’s not normal for you. And now, with the coronavirus pandemic, you may not be sure what’s the best thing to do.
Cancer can cause many symptoms. These are changes in your body that tell you something may not be right.
Most of the time, symptoms are caused by something other than cancer. Many things can cause symptoms that you might mistake for cancer. But to find out, you’ll need to see a doctor and possibly get some tests.
When to See Your Doctor
It’s important to let your doctor know about any major changes in the way you feel or the way your body’s working. Here are some symptoms you should tell your doctor about as soon as possible:
- Unexpected weight loss over a short time
- Always feeling very tired, even after sleeping
- Skin changes (such as new spots, changes in a mole, a sore that doesn’t heal, or unusual yellowing of your skin or eyes
- Unusual bleeding, including unexplained vaginal bleeding, blood in your poop or urine, or a bloody discharge from a nipple
- Changes in your bathroom habits (like long-term constipation or diarrhea, or pain when you go)
- A lump or thickening in part of your body
- Seizures, sudden problems with vision or hearing, unusual headaches, or other brain-related problems
Be sure to contact your doctor if you have any symptom that’s lasting a long time or getting worse.
How to Reach Out to Your Doctor
If you have worrisome symptoms, start by calling your primary care provider. This might be a family medicine doctor, an internist, or a nurse practitioner. If you don’t have one, here are some ways to find one:
- Check online to see if your local hospital has a referral service.
- Contact your health insurance company to find someone near you that accepts your insurance.
- Ask friends or family members for a recommendation.
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms. To be ready for your appointment, it might help to write down the things you want to share. Here are some other tips:
- Be prepared to describe your symptoms: what they are, when they started, how often you have them, what makes them better/worse, what treatments have you tried.
- Tell your doctor if you’re worried about your cancer risk.
- Be ready to review your family’s cancer history.
Instead of going to the office or clinic, you might be able to do a telehealth appointment. Web video chats, phone calls, and patient portals can allow you to “meet” with your doctor from the safety of your own home. These visits are often covered by insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid.
Plan to talk to your doctor in a quiet, private place during your telehealth visit. Your doctor might be able to diagnose and even treat your symptoms based on this conversation. Or the information you share can help your doctor decide what your next steps should be. You may need another telehealth appointment in a few weeks to follow up. Or you may be asked to go to your doctor’s office for an examination or to a lab to have bloodwork done.
If You’re Going to Your Doctor’s Office or Hospital
Health care centers and providers are changing their activities to help limit person-to-person contact and potential spread of the coronavirus. For instance, you might not be allowed to take a support person with you into the clinic, and you may be asked to wear a mask and keep it on as long as you’re in the building. If you don’t have one, they may give you one, but it’s best to be ready with your own.
You might be called a day or two before your visit to ask about any symptoms of COVID-19 infection. You’ll likely be screened before you’re allowed in the building. You may be asked questions to find out if you might have COVID-19, and your temperature may be taken.
When you get to the office or clinic, you may notice fewer chairs in waiting rooms and closed treatment areas. This is done to help keep people 3 to 10 feet apart.
Many health care providers and other employees in centers that are seeing patients have gotten extra training on how to protect themselves. Some employers are prescreening and doing temperature checks of their employees. They’re enforcing strict stay-home policies for sick employees. Many require all workers to wear masks, stagger breaks to maintain social distancing, and disinfect common areas and shared equipment more often than usual. All of this, in turn, helps protect you from infection.
You might be scared by the symptoms you’re having and scared about going to a doctor. You might also be scared about possibly exposing yourself to the coronavirus. But contact a doctor. If you do have cancer, treating it as soon as possible gives you the best chance that treatment will work.