‘People don’t make the association’: Three most commonly overlooked symptoms of cancer

Cancer symptoms: Top 14 early signs to look out for

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Cancer is fiendishly difficult to fight once it has advanced so catching it early is key. This is easier said than done, not just for the patient but also the doctor. “The patient doesn’t come as a textbook. They come with a long convoluted history,” explained Doctor Nighat Arif to Express.co.uk.

According to Doctor Nighat, it is about putting together the jigsaw pieces and building an overall picture that is indicative of cancer.

The battle starts with the patient. Cancer is a sophisticated threat because it doesn’t always give away obvious clues.

The symptoms can be vague and non-specific.

This often means “people don’t make the association” to cancer, Doctor Nighat warned.

According to the doc, lower back pain is a cancerous red flag that often gets overlooked.

The symptom is associated with bladder and ovarian cancers, she warned.

Another symptom that should automatically raise alarm bells is bleeding from the back passage. Unfortunately, this symptom also causes confusion.

It is not “frank red blood” you should be looking out for but “black poo”, said Doctor Nighat.

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She explained: “People don’t realise but black poo means you’ve had a bleed higher up in the stomach and by the time the blood has come through the bowel it has died.”

Finally, lumps can be brushed off as not serious but age often plays a role here, Doctor Nighat said.

There is generally an acute awareness when someone finds an unusual lump on the skin or boob, the doc said.

However, “if a 16-year-old finds a lump on his testicle in their testicle, they might not go to their doctor because they might not think it’s associated with cancer”, she said.

Doctor Nighat attributes this blasé attitude to a common misconception: that cancer is an older person’s disease.

How to respond to symptoms

Although it’s unlikely to be cancer, it’s important to speak to a GP if you notice any unusual changes so they can investigate, says the NHS.

The health body says symptoms that persist for three weeks or more are a cause for concern.

“If your GP suspects cancer, they’ll refer you to a specialist – usually within two weeks.”

How to reduce your risk of cancer

Doctors do not know the exact causes of cancer. But there are risk factors that can increase your chance of developing it.

Having one or more risk factors does not mean you will get cancer. Also, having no risk factors does not mean you will not develop cancer.

Around one in three cases of the most common cancers are thought to be preventable by eating a healthy diet, keeping to a healthy weight and being more active.

Unfortunately, increasing age is the biggest risk factor for most people – a factor that cannot be changed.

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