Special Report

20 Common Cancer Symptoms to Catch Early

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Unexplained weight loss
> Commonly associated cancers: Most cancers

Weight loss is a common symptom in many cancers, but it’s more common in later stages, Alvarez said. Unintentional weight loss, especially if it occurs simultaneously with other possible symptoms, may specifically be a sign of uterine cancer, he noted. The body produces cytokines to fight the disease and they may lead to loss of muscle and decreased appetite.

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Pain in any part of the breast
> Commonly associated cancers: Breast cancer

It’s important to know how the breasts normally feel and look because any changes in size or appearance — swelling, redness, lumps, or nodes — should be investigated, according to the American Cancer Society. Breast pain — when a tumor pushes into a nearby healthy tissue — is not very common at the early stages of the disease, but it’s one of the first signs in women with inflammatory breast cancer, a rare but rapidly developing type of cancer.

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Changes in bowel movements
> Commonly associated cancers: Ovarian, colon, stomach

Constipation or diarrhea may also be a sign of colon cancer. After spreading to the colon or from the formation of ascites, ovarian cancers can cause narrowing of the bowel and lead to constipation. The fluid buildup may be putting pressure on the bowel, making it hard for stool to pass. It is also possible for some women with ovarian cancer to suddenly develop severe constipation that alternates with diarrhea.

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Back pain
> Commonly associated cancers: Spinal, colon, ovarian, lung

Back pain tends to not appear in isolation from other symptoms when the cause is cancer, Alvarez said. “As a sole symptom, the reason for it is probably stress.” Back pain may develop in women with ovarian cancer due to fluid buildup in the pelvic area, especially if the uterus is tipped backwards, according to Tarricone.

As an early sign, back pain is common in spinal tumors. The pain may spread to other parts of the body and get worse at night. Although rare, back pain may be an indication of colon cancer, and lower back pain of kidney cancer.

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Blood in urine
> Commonly associated cancers: Bladder, kidney, prostate

Blood in the urine, whether clearly visible or only visible under a microscope, may be an early sign of bladder cancer, Luckenbaugh explained. There may be blood even if the color of the urine appears normal. The blood may be present one day and then disappear, but if it’s cancer, it’ll reappear, according to the American Cancer Society. Kidney cancer may also cause blood in the urine.