How do I know if it could be cancer? – Part 2


Last week’s post, ‘How do I know if it could be cancer? – Part 1: touched on some general signs and symptoms that can be caused by cancers. This week we’ll talk about some more signs and symptoms caused by specific cancers. As we said last week, there can very well be other causes for these symptoms, but they must always be discussed with a doctor.

Cough that won’t go away

This is often referred to this as a ‘persistent cough’. Any cough that lasts for more than 3 weeks is one to see your doctor about. Some people with chest conditions have persistent coughs; if the cough changes though, this should be discussed with a doctor. A chest infection that keeps coming back even after antibiotics is something else to talk to your doctor about. These symptoms can be caused by lung cancer.

Hoarse voice

A hoarse voice, with no symptoms of a cold or with no pain is another symptom to watch for. This can be related to throat cancer.

Difficulty swallowing

Difficulty in swallowing because of tonsillitis or a sore throat usually goes away. In fact, these are 2 of the most common causes of problems swallowing. But, when swallowing problems don’t go away and get worse, it could mean that there is a cancer of the esophagus (the food pipe that goes down from the back of the mouth to the stomach).

Change in normal bowel habit

Bowel habits vary a lot between different people. Any change in bowel habit like diarrhoea or constipation that lasts for more than 6 weeks may indicate a bowel cancer.

There may be other changes like:

  • Feeling of not completely emptying bowels
  • Blood or mucous in the stools or passing just blood or mucous alone; blood outside the stools, or on the toilet paper is usually related to piles (also called haemorrhoids)
  • Bloating or cramping pain that is not really related to anything else and that doesn’t go away

If any of these changes also come with weight loss or a poor appetite, they should definitely be discussed quickly with a doctor.

Unusual bleeding

Any bleeding that cannot be explained is a sign that something is wrong. There may be another cause of the bleeding apart from cancer, but this symptom must always be discussed with a doctor:

  • In women, bleeding after sex, or between periods may be caused by a cancer of the cervix or a cancer of the womb.
  • Blood in the urine can be caused by cancer of the bladder (the sack/bag in the pelvis that holds urine) or the kidney.
  • Blood mixed in with stools or blood alone from the back passage may be caused by bowel cancer.
  • Vomiting blood may be caused by cancer of the esophagus or cancer of the stomach.
  • Coughing up blood may be caused by lung cancer.
  • Blood leaking from the nipples may be caused by breast cancer.
  • Nose bleeds or easy bruising can be caused by leukemia (a cancer of the blood), but other causes are more common.

Sores that don’t heal

A sore that doesn’t heal and doesn’t have an obvious cause should be examined by a doctor. A skin sore that bleeds and doesn’t heal may mean skin cancer. A sore in the mouth may be caused by a mouth (oral) cancer. A sore on the penis or outside of the vagina, is usually caused by infections, but if it doesn’t go away then, it may be a cancer.

New moles or moles that change

A mole is a colored spot on the skin and moles are normal in many people. If any mole or a new mole shows any of the changes below, it may mean that it is a melanoma, a type of skin cancer that most commonly affects people with white skin due to low levels of melanin. Black-skinned people usually get melanoma in the areas where there is no melanin – the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and in the mouth. To remember these changes, think: A B C D E


A – asymmetry. Melanomas are irregular and look uneven whereas a normal mole has a regular defined shape.

B – borders. Melanomas have rough, jagged edges. Moles have smooth, regular edges.

C – colour. Melanomas have different shades of color. Moles are usually one tone of brown or black.

D – diameter. Moles are usually no bigger than the tip of a pencil. Melanomas are bigger.

E – evolving. Moles stay the same size and shape over time. Melanomas change their shape, colour and size over time.


White patches in the mouth or on the tongue

Smoking or chewing tobacco can lead to irritation of the inside of the mouth or the tongue. White patches called leukoplakia (pronounced loo-ko-play-kee-uh; derived from Greek, leukos-, white; plakus, plate then appear. Leukoplakia are pre-cancerous and if not treated can turn into mouth cancer.

These are just some of the most common symptoms of cancer. There are others that will be discussed in future articles about specific cancers. Anyone can have any of these symptoms and they may have nothing to do with cancer, but you won’t know that unless you talk to a doctor about them.





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