Signs of Cancer that Could Be Mistaken for Something Else from Signs of Cancer that Could Be Mistaken for Something Else
Signs of Cancer that Could Be Mistaken for Something Else
Signs of Cancer that Could Be Mistaken for Something Else
Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 8.2 million deaths in 2012 alone, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In America, the disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue, kills more than half a million people a year, making cancer the second leading cause of death in the country, exceeded only by heart disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says. More than 1,600 people a day died of cancer in the U.S. in 2013, the latest year for which statistics are available.
Stomach cancer usually causes vague symptoms like bloating and a feeling full, Dr. Nita Lee from the University of Chicago Medicine says, but so do digestive disorders.
More tests need to be done and doctors have to use their judgment. Ovarian cancer is not as silent as most people think, she adds. Bloating is an early sign.
Ovarian cancer and endometriosis, when tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside, may have the same symptoms which include constipation, which is often a sign your thyroid isn’t working.
But this type of cancer is common in older women after menopause, Dr. Lee says. Other symptoms include infertility, pelvic pain and irregular menstrual cycles. These often overlap, but there presence of a cyst can mean cancer, she adds.
Loss of appetite
Stomach cancer can cause people to fill up very easily, Dr. George Sledge, chief of the Division of Oncology at Stanford, says. The tumor can send chemicals to tell the brain to stop eating, he adds. But changes in metabolism and about a hundred other conditions can also cause poor appetite.
This is just one possible symptom of pancreatic cancer, which often has no signs at all. Pain in the upper abdominal area is most often the cause of irritable bowel syndrome, Dr. Lee says.
A lot of the symptoms overlap and that’s why it’s good to keep a diary of when they occurred and how much they hurt, she adds. Then a doctor can order an ultrasound or a CT scan.
Breast cancer is sometimes mistaken for breast inflammation, which can be caused by some kind of trauma to the breast. Skin change in texture or color, which is a symptom of skin cancer, can be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer, a rare form of the disease. It can easily be mistaken for an infection, Dr. Sledge says.
Fever is a common symptom of many conditions, some of which can be life-threating, including lymphomas, Dr. Sledge says. There are over 500 lymph nodes throughout the body. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) can develop anywhere where nodes exist and can even affect extranodal organs such as the liver, stomach and lungs. That’s why NHL symptoms vary and often resemble those of a cold, flu or another respiratory infection, according to the Cancer Center.
Some cancers can grow very rapidly. When cytokines, small secreted proteins, are released by the cells in an abnormal way, they can trigger an overreaction that can show itself as sweating,” Dr. Solomon Graf, a hematology/oncology specialist for UW Medicine and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, says. Secretion of cytokines by tumor cells leads to an inflammation response.
Most of the time some bowel movement changes represent temporary infections, but sometimes they are a sign of colon cancer.
If diagnosed in the earliest stages, survival rates are well over 90 percent. This is another vague possible symptom of ovarian cancer, Dr. Lee says. GI complications are common in cancer patients.
Lung cancer, especially among smokers, can easily be mistaken for something else.
People will cough, get tired, and their voice may sound different. But these are also symptoms of more common problems such as pneumonia. “If the unexplained irritation doesn’t stop for 4 weeks, a doctor should order a chest X-ray, Dr. Lee says. Coughing blood even is a non-specific symptom, the most common one of which is infection, Dr. Graf adds.
Back pain is not a common cancer sign but it can be if the cancer has spread to the spine, Dr. Lee says. It will likely cause tenderness and discomfort in the bones.
When cancer of the pancreas is large enough it can cause pain in the back. It won’t be the only symptom though, she adds. There will be other signs that are also on the vague side.
Nausea and vomiting – health symptoms you should never ignore – particularly vomiting up solid food shortly after eating, are a sign of stomach cancer, which is not usually found at an early stage, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. What also causes vomiting is motion sickness, certain meds, severe pain, Gallbladder disease, and food poisoning.
Fatigue is awfully common, Dr. Solomon Graf, a hematology/oncology specialist for UW Medicine and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, says. It’s important not to raise alarm prematurely. “Cancer is a potential cause but there are so many,” he adds. Low energy for weeks at a time is associated with advanced cancer.
Many other conditions, most commonly thyroid dysfunction, can cause sudden and unexplained weight loss.
Pneumonia is another possible cause but it will come with fever and chills as well, Dr. Graf says. If a patient has unintentionally lost weight, out of the blue, with no medication, and doesn’t feel ill otherwise, he or she should bring that to the doctor’s attention, he adds.
Most of the time dark urine is a sign of dehydration.
But cancer of the GI tract, kidneys, uterus, or of the bladder can cause bleeding into the urine, causing a much darker color. Painless bleeding is a serious sign. Dark or orange urine, combined with yellowish skin can be a sign of liver malfunction.
Rounder and wider toes and fingers can be a sign of lung cancer, Dr. Graf says.
“This is a phenomenon that is poorly understood and it can also occur in patients with heart, other lung problems or congenital conditions,” he adds. Cancer cells may release chemicals in the blood that change the structure of the nails, Dr. Sledge adds. “Doctors are now being taught to look for lung cancer if they see clubbing.”