Eight signs of cancer: Study

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Scientists have now identified eight signs of cancer that need immediate attention. These can predict the risk of cancer with such accuracy in certain age groups that patients should be referred to a specialist straight away unless there is a good explanation that is is something else.

These symptoms are;

  • Iron deficiency Anaemia (indicative of colon cancer)
  • Blood in urine (indicative of cancers related to urology).
  • Coughing up blood (possible lung cancer)
  • Difficulty swallowing (possible esophageal cancer)
  • Breast lump or mass (possible breast cancer)
  • Post-menopausal bleeding (possible cancers related to gynaecology)
  • Abnormal prostate test (possible prostate cancer) and
  • Rectal blood loss(indicative of colon cancer in older age groups)

The study was led by Mark Shapley and colleagues from Keele University and was published in the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP). When these symptoms are identified early diagnosis and treatment is the best, say authors. The researchers said GPs should be given better computer systems to arm them with the tools to identify cancers much earlier. They should also look closely at the ages of patients and see if they fall into risk groups for specific male or female cancers.

According to Dr Shapley the eight symptoms had been identified following careful analysis of 25 studies from the UK, US, Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, Denmark and Germany.

In an editorial in the same issue of the journal, Dr Kevin Barraclough, a GP from Stroud explained iron deficiency anaemia in a 21-year old female was extremely unlikely to be bowel cancer but more likely if the test results were for a 60-year-old man. “More research in primary care is urgently needed to inform cancer referral guidelines,” he said.

Professor Amanda Howe, honorary secretary of the Royal College of GPs, agreed with these findings and said, “It's useful to see these well known 'red flag' symptoms and signs validated in primary care research, and reinforces the importance of encouraging patients to discuss worrying symptoms early with their GP… Access and thorough examinations will help early diagnosis while further research gives us more detailed epidemiological thresholds for referral.”

However, a spokesman for Cancer Research UK said that these were by no means the only potential warning signs for cancer. “The particular symptoms this study has highlighted are already thought of as important potential signs of cancer, but there are more than 200 different types of cancer, which cause many different symptoms…So if you notice an unusual or persistent change in your body it's important to get it checked out. When cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, treatment is often more likely to be successful,” he said.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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