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.

For what else causes bloating, click here

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.  

See: Easy Tricks to Get Rid of Belly Bloat



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.

For how to tell you have a thyroid problem, click here

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.

See: 6 Cancer Myths That You Should Ignore

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.

See: 10 Widespread Myths About Metabolism

Abdominal pain


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.

For reasons why you’re your stomach hurts, click here

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.

See: 12 Diseases Doctors Most Often Misdiagnose

Breast inflammation


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.

See: Do These Things to Lower Your Risk for Breast Cancer



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.

See: The 15 Most Common Myths about the Cold and Flu



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.

See: 15 Things Your Dermatologist Wants You to Know About Skin Cancer



Most of the time some bowel movement changes represent temporary infections, but sometimes they are a sign of colon cancer.

For why IBS is difficult to diagnose, click here 

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.

See: The Biggest Threats to Men's Health



Lung cancer, especially among smokers, can easily be mistaken for something else.

For other unexpected ways to know you have health problems, click here

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.

See: The Most Serious Public Health Concerns in the U.S.

Back pain


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.

For ways to improve your bone health, click here

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.

See: Best Back Exercises For People With Back Pain



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.

See: Avoid These 10 Foods If You Don’t Want Food Poisoning

Low energy


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.

See: 13 Workouts for When You’re Too Tired to Work Out

Weight loss


Many other conditions, most commonly thyroid dysfunction, can cause sudden and unexplained weight loss.

For signs you thyroid isn’t working, click here

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.

See: 40 Weight Loss Tips for People Over 40

Dark urine


Most of the time dark urine is a sign of dehydration.

For how dehydration is making you sick, click here

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.

See: Hydrate Right: How to Make Sure You're Drinking Enough Water



Rounder and wider toes and fingers can be a sign of lung cancer, Dr. Graf says.

For what your feet can reveal about your health, click here

“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.”

See: Signs You Need More Iron in Your Diet