Cancer Symptoms

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Cancers are a group of hundreds of different diseases and affect various organs of the body. Cancer symptoms depend on the stage of cancer, the grade of cancer, whether it has spread to other organs, the general health, age and condition of the patient and numerous other factors.

Types of cancer symptom

Broadly the symptoms of cancer can be divided into the following groups:

Local symptoms

This includes the symptoms at the primary site of cancer. This may be a lump or tumor, pain, bleeding, ulcers or sores over the skin, pressure over the surrounding organs, hoarseness or cough that does not go away, obvious changes in a wart or a mole, changes in bladder or bowel habits,  difficulty in swallowing etc.

Systemic symptoms

This includes symptoms of the generalized body as a whole. Most of these are common for all types of cancer. These include weight loss, poor appetite, fatigue and wasting (known as cancer cachexia), excessive sweating especially at nights (night sweats), hormonal changes, anemia, bleeding tendencies due to deficiency of platelets (thrombocytopenia) etc.

Symptoms of spread of cancer or metastasis

This includes swelling of the nearing lymph nodes, cough, bleeding on coughing or hemoptysis (as seen in spread of the cancer to lungs), bone pain (as seen in spread of the cancer to bones), convulsions and neurological symptoms (as seen in spread of the cancer to brain), jaundice and abnormal liver function tests (as seen in spread of the cancer to liver) etc.

It is important to know that these symptoms do not mean that the patient has cancer.

Pain, depression and fatigue

Pain, depression, and fatigue are prominent contributors to suffering of many cancer patients. Every year, cancer kills of severely debilitates millions of people worldwide. Symptoms such as depression, fatigue and cancer pain are often difficult to measure and quantify.

Cancer is related with intractable and severe pain. This may be acute, chronic or tumor-specific pain or related to treatment of procedure. Pain is a major cause of impaired quality of life in patients with cancer, and intensifies the distress and suffering.

Inflammatory mediators associated with cancer include prostaglandins, cytokines, tumor necrosis factors, interleukins, growth factors and other tumor-derived chemicals that are known to cause pain. Pain may also occur due to the pressure applied by the cancer on surrounding organs.

General symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Loss of appetite or anorexia
  • Weight loss

Gastrointestinal system symptoms

  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Tastelessness
  • Feeling full
  • Excessive burping
  • Excessive hiccupping
  • Mouth ulcers and sores
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal bloating

Respiratory system symptoms

  • Difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath
  • Cough with excessive sputum
  • Blood in sputum or hemoptysis
  • Hoarseness of voice

Cardio-vascular system symptoms

  • Edema or swelling of face and feet
  • Palpitations

Neurological symptoms

Skin related symptoms

  • Itching
  • Dry skin
  • Sores or ulcers that do not heal
  • Abnormal changes in warts or moles

Urological and genital symptoms

  • Pain or difficulty in urination
  • Difficulty in holding in urine (incontinence)
  • Pain and itching in the vagina (vaginitis)
  • Amenorrhea or absence of menstrual periods
  • Pain over the genital region (dyspareunia)
  • Loss of libido
  • Unnatural bleeding and spotting even after menopause
  • Impotence in males

Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)

Sources

  1. http://www.netofcare.org/content/pdf/6-spec_illness-cancer.pdf
  2. http://archive.ahrq.gov/downloads/pub/evidence/pdf/cansymp/cansymp.pdf
  3. http://www.turkjcancer.org/pdf/pdf_TJC_413.pdf
  4. http://www.cancer.gov

Further Reading

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