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3 Warning Signs of Cancer

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Did you know that based on data published by the Cancer Research UK, there are at least 367, 167 new cancer cases every year in the UK? That is equal to about 1000 cases every day! More than half of these cancer cases are bowel, lung, prostate, and breast cancers --- affecting various age groups.

Most cancers are treatable, especially in the early stages. That’s why looking out for warning signs is key. Here are 3 warning signs of cancer that you should keep an eye on.

What are the most common types of cancer in the UK?

According to the NHS, there are at least 200 types of identified cancer --- ranging from Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a type of cancer that affects the white blood cells, to vulval cancer which is a rare type of disease that affects a woman’s external genitalia.

In the UK, the most commonly diagnosed cancers are:

Breast Cancer – mostly affects women over 50 years old. This type of cancer is usually characterised by changes in shape or size of one or both breasts, swelling under the armpits, rashes around the nipples, or bloody discharge from the nipples.

Lung Cancer – 47,000 people are diagnosed with this disease every year. Common symptoms include persistent coughing, breathlessness and coughing up blood.

Prostate Cancer – a slow developing cancer that affects men, usually over 50 years old. This cancer may develop without obvious symptoms aside from an increased urge to urinate.

Bowel Cancer – this type of cancer commonly affects people over 60 years old. It usually begins in the large intestines and is usually characterised by persistent blood in your faeces, bloating, abdominal pain, and abnormal changes in your bowel habit.

How cancer develops in the body

Cancer begins in one cell or a group of cells. There are different cells in the body, in fact at least a hundred million of them. Each of these cells produces a signal controlling how much and how often they divide or multiply. Sometimes, there are "errors" in this signal causing certain types of cells to multiply uncontrollably --- forming a tumour.

This primary tumour will continue to grow using the oxygen and nutrients supplied by nearby blood vessels. However, as it grows bigger, it will need more blood to survive. This need prompts the tumour to create new blood vessels in a process called angiogenesis. This process allows the tumour to grow bigger and enables cancer cells to enter the bloodstream and spread to other parts of the body in a process called metastasis. How far and where cancer has spread is usually the basis of cancer staging systems. Cancer can spread anywhere in the body but it’s most likely to attack the liver, lungs, brain, liver, bones, or lymph nodes first.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Cancer

Most cancer treatments rely on early diagnosis to be successful. Cancer is harder to stop when it’s at its later stages of infection (i.e., Stage 3 and 4). During its early stages, cancer is still small and has not yet spread to different areas of the body. This allows doctors to remove the tumour through surgery or other methods.

So, what are the warning signs of cancer that you should be wary about? Read below:

1. Lump in various parts of the body

Did you know that you can feel many types of cancer through your skin? Lumps are common in cancers affecting the soft tissues in the body like your testicles, breasts, and lymph nodes. Lumps can be a warning sign of early or late-stage cancer. Consult your doctor immediately if you have just noticed this symptom or if the lump has grown in size.

2. Unexplained weight loss

One of the first signs of cancer is losing a good chunk of weight, around 4.5 kilograms, in a short period without knowing why. Most people with cancer (especially those affecting the stomach, lung, oesophagus, and pancreas) experience massive weight loss.

3. Bleeding or discharge

Bleeding and unusual discharges may be a sign of an early or advanced form of cancer. For example, the presence of blood in the stool can be a tell-tale sign of rectal or colon cancer. Coughing up blood may mean that you have lung cancer. Bladder or kidney cancer is usually characterised by blood in the urine while breast cancer may come with a bloody discharge from the nipples. Cervical cancers usually cause abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharges. If you experience any of these, get in touch with your doctor as soon as possible.

There are many early warning signs of cancer aside from the three listed in this article. You know your body. If you notice any major changes in how your body works and if these changes persist, let your doctor know. Remember that one of the best ways to survive cancer is to detect it as early as possible.