Signs of Cancer in Women

From menstrual cycles to menopause, female bodies go through a lot. And it’s normal to feel different sometimes. But it’s a good idea to get any new symptoms checked out by your doctor. Some changes could be signs of cancer.

Some of the most common cancers women get include:

Keep in mind that many possible cancer symptoms can also be caused by other health conditions. And for cancers that affect both men and women, symptoms tend to be the same for both genders. But it’s important to tell your doctor if you notice certain warning signs.

Breast or Nipple Changes

A lump doesn’t mean you have breast cancer. But get a new one checked out, especially if it sticks around for longer than a couple of weeks.

Other symptoms to watch out for include:

  • A swollen breast (with or without a lump)
  • Lump in your armpit or collarbone
  • Nipple discharge, either bloody or clear
  • Nipples that point inward
  • Skin that looks like an orange peel (dimpling)
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Red, itchy, or thick nipple or breast skin

Some experts think it’s a good idea to check your breasts and underarms once a month. Others disagree. Your doctor can help you decide if that's right for you. They’ll also tell you how often you need a mammogram. That’s an X-ray that looks for changes in your breast tissue.

Bowel Changes

Bowel changes can be a sign of colorectal cancer. That affects your rectum and colon. It can look like hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Women could confuse some colorectal cancer symptoms with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or their periods.

Tell your doctor if your poop habits change for more than a few days or you have other symptoms like:

Your doctor can check for colorectal cancer before you have symptoms. There are different tests, but one way is to look inside your colon with a long, flexible tube. That’s called a colonoscopy. You may need one on a regular basis, especially if you’re over 45 or have certain conditions like ulcerative colitis. Your doctor can help you decide what's best.

You may also poop more or less than usual l if you have a tumor on or near your bowels. That can happen if you have cancer in your pelvis or vagina.

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Belly, Pelvic, or Back Pain

Pain in your torso is common with conditions like endometriosis. It can also be cramps from your menstrual cycle. But long-lasting aches or pressure in your belly, pelvis, or back can be a sign of several kinds of cancer. That includes colorectal, ovarian, and endometrial cancers.

You may also get lower back pain if you have a tumor on your spine, or cancer that has spread from somewhere else. It’s rare, but upper belly pain that spreads to your back and comes with unexplained weight loss may be a sign of pancreatic cancer.

Bloating

It’s normal to feel puffy after a big meal or before your period. But tell your doctor if you’re visibly bloated every day for a few weeks. It could be a sign of ovarian or another kind of cancer.

Pee Changes

Urinary tract infections are a common reason why your bladder habits change. But pee problems are sometimes a sign of something more serious. See your doctor right away if you have blood in your urine. It can signal a urinary tract infection, but it can also be a symptom of bladder or kidney cancer.

Other symptoms that could be a sign of either a urinary tract infection or cancer:

  • A feeling of pressure on your bladder
  • Pain or burning when you pee
  • Peeing often
  • A sudden urge to pee
  • Problems emptying your bladder

Weight Loss Without Trying

You can lower your chances of cancer if you maintain a normal weight. But tell your doctor if you drop 10 pounds or more without dieting. Cancer can cause you to shed weight.

Non-Period Bleeding or Discharge

Tell your doctor if you’re spotting between your periods or have a bloody, smelly discharge. These things are usually caused by an infection. But sometimes they're a sign of cervical, vaginal, or endometrial cancer.

If you’ve gone through menopause, see your doctor right away if you’re bleeding. That’s never normal.

Fatigue

A busy schedule can sap your energy. You should feel better after a good night’s sleep. If you don’t, tell your doctor. Serious tiredness that doesn’t go away can be a sign of cancer.

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Loss of Appetite

Tumors in or near your digestive tract can press on your stomach. You may find it hard to eat because you feel full. Cancer can also send out hormones that interfere with your hunger signals.

Night Sweats or Fever

If you’re going through menopause, you may sometimes wake up with damp sheets. But intense night sweats that happen often could also be a sign of leukemia or lymphoma. These blood cancers may also give you a fever.

You can also get a fever when cancer spreads from somewhere else (metastasizes) or affects your immune system.

Cough

A lasting cough is sometimes a sign of lung cancer. If you’re hoarse all the time, that could be cancer in your voice box (larynx) or thyroid gland. Tell your doctor about these symptoms. Get medical help right away if you have chest pain and cough up blood.

Skin Changes

Skin cancer can look like a mole that gets bigger. It can also appear as a sore that doesn’t heal, or as a crusty red spot.

Your doctor or a dermatologist can check for skin cancer. But you can also give yourself regular exams at home. Pay attention to all parts of your body. Even look between your toes, under your toenails, and in your scalp.

Heartburn or Trouble Swallowing

You can get cancer in your mouth, esophagus, stomach, or throat (pharynx). This can make you gag or choke when you eat or drink. You may get indigestion or feel like something is stuck in your throat. Talk to your doctor if you have these symptoms.

Other Symptoms to Watch For

  • Pain. See your doctor anytime you have pain that doesn’t go away.
  • Mouth changes. Watch out for white or red patches that don’t get better. Lasting sores could be signs of oral cancer.
  • Swollen face or upper body parts. Tumors can press on the big vein that carries blood from your head and arms to your heart. Your face, neck, arms, or chest may get puffy.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on May 15, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: “Cancer Facts for Women,” “Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms,” “Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer,” “American Cancer Society Guideline for Colorectal Cancer Screening,” “Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer,” “Loss of Appetite,” Signs and Symptoms of Cancer,” “Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer,” “Nail Changes,” “How to Do a Skin Self-Exam,” “Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer.”

MD Anderson Cancer Center: “10 cancer symptoms women shouldn’t ignore.”

National Breast Cancer Foundation: “Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC).”

Breastcancer.org: “Breast Self-Exam.”

Northwestern Medicine: “Symptoms of Gynecologic Cancers.”

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: “Back Pain and Cancer: How Are They Related?” “Is a Headache a Sign of a Brain Tumor?” “Night Sweats: Are They a Symptom of Cancer?”

Mayo Clinic News Network: “What to know about pancreatic cancer.”

Rush University Medical Center: “5 Early Signs of Ovarian Cancer.”

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health: “11 Cancer Symptoms Women Shouldn’t Ignore.”

Lung India: “Digital Clubbing.”

Cancer.net: “Difficulty Swallowing or Dysphagia.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Early Cancer Warning Signs: 5 Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore.”

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