9 noticeable signs of cancer to look out for

You often see and hear about breast cancer and its warning signs. Many women have likely heard about doing monthly breast self-exams and genetic testing. Similarly, men receive reminders to regularly perform self-exams for testicular abnormalities. Meanwhile, you probably have heard about skin cancers – what to look for, staying out of direct sunlight, and doing skin self-exams. This article, however, is about cancer warnings signs and symptoms that you don’t often hear about or suspect. A little extra knowledge may save your life. 

If you find any of these signs or symptoms, especially if it’s new to you, don’t panic. It is more likely to be normal for your body, benign, or something that is easily and quickly remedied, than it is likely to be cancer. Don’t neglect it though – you’ll want to know what it is, to have peace of mind. Also, if a doctor diagnoses you with cancer, early discovery and management will yield a better outcome than late discovery.

That ‘something’s in my throat’ feeling

About 90 percent of the time, the cause of a foreign body sensation in the throat is acid reflux, better known as heartburn. Other causes of a foreign body sensation, according to San Diego ENT, include inflammatory conditions of the nose and throat (e.g. tonsillitis, chronic sinusitis), anxiety, thyroid disease, something stuck in the throat, or a tumor. Note that tumors are listed last – it’s very unlikely the cause of a foreign body sensation. When there is a tumor, it may be benign, since not all tumors are malignant.

Tonsillar and base-of-tongue tumors are increasing in frequency due to the rise in human papilloma virus (HPV) infections, often acquired through oral sex. HPV can be present in the body for years without an individual knowing of the infection and the associated risk of its transformation to malignancy.

If that “something’s in my throat” feeling persists, you persist. It is not unusual for a patient to see several physicians before the diagnosis is nailed down.

Doctor looking at throat of sick teen girl, possible strep throat
(© Alexander Raths
– stock.adobe.com)

Ear Pain

A constant ache in an ear (otalgia), without signs of infection, may be “referred otalgia.” The condition causing the pain is not in the ear at all, but somewhere else in the head and neck, transmitting pain signals to the ear along nerves in the area.

There are dozens of diseases which cause referred pain to the ear, including some malignancies. This is another symptom which, if it persists, you need to persist, until the diagnosis is definite.

Vaginal Bleeding

There are so many causes of vaginal bleeding that they can’t all be listed here. The most threatening cause, which calls for swift medical attention to any vaginal bleeding of unknown cause, is endometrial cancer. 

In the United States, cancer of the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) is the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be about 66,200 new cases of uterine cancer across the U.S. this year. Doctors project that about 13,030 women will die from the disease in 2023.

Endometrial cancer usually affects post-menopausal women. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 60. It’s uncommon in women under the age of 45. Endometrial cancer is more common in Black women than White women, and Black women are more likely to die from the disease.

Woman suffering from UTI or bladder pain
(© jomkwan7 – stock.adobe.com)


If you find blood in your bowel movements, think about the possibility of colon cancer, the third most common cancer in the U.S. However, you won’t always see blood in bowel movements with colon cancer. Often, the first sign of colon cancer is anemia, a disorder in which the blood has a less than normal ability to carry oxygen. It can be due to a fewer-than-normal number of red blood cells, or low hemoglobin, the protein in blood which carries oxygen.

Anemia can cause you to feel tired or lightheaded, but it may take the loss of quite a lot of blood before you develop symptoms. Your annual visit to your primary care provider will often include drawing blood for lab work, to check for anemia. 

Colon cancer is occurring in younger and younger people. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) guidelines for colon cancer screening include colonoscopy beginning at age 45, then every five to 10 years after (more often if you have risk factors for colon cancer.)

A Hoarse Voice

An upper respiratory infection, such as the common cold, can cause a hoarse-sounding voice temporarily. If the hoarseness persists, though, it should be evaluated. 

The voice box (larynx), housing your vocal cords, can develop laryngeal cancer. Along with a hoarse voice, this cancer might also cause throat or ear pain, or a lump in the neck or throat. It can also spread to the thyroid, trachea (windpipe), or esophagus.

Abdominal bloating

Abdominal pain or bloating is a common complaint. It could mean that you have a gastrointestinal problem, like irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease. Rarely, though, belly bloating and pelvic discomfort or a sense of fullness are associated with ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer occurs in about 1.1 percent of females. You may be at increased risk for ovarian cancer if the disease is part of your family’s history.

Woman experiencing stomach or menstrual pain
(© Hazal – stock.adobe.com)

Bone Pain

Bone pain is sometimes the result of an injury, infection, other inflammatory disease, or osteoporosis, but it may be a sign of cancer.

Unexplained bone pain, especially in the spine, pelvis, and ribs, may be a symptom of multiple myeloma, which is a cancer of plasma cells. Normal plasma cells live in the bone marrow and are an important part of the immune system.

Bone or joint pain in people who have symptoms such as fever, fatigue, or weight loss can be signs of leukemia, a type of blood and bone marrow cancer.

Urinary signs or symptoms

Do you feel like you need to pee all the time? Or do you have to go NOW? These symptoms, called frequency and urgency, are common with a urinary tract infection (UTI), overactive bladder, or Type 2 diabetes. They can also occur with bladder cancer, which is the sixth most common cancer in the United States.

Blood in the urine (hematuria) can also indicate a bladder or kidney infection. It may be a sign of a kidney stone, especially with severe flank pain. Less commonly, bloody urine is a symptom of bladder or kidney cancer.

Kidney cancer is one of the 10 most common cancers in the U.S. It’s about twice as common in men than in women. The average age at diagnosis is 64 years. It is rare in people younger than age 45.

Urinary tract infections are so uncommon in men that a single UTI calls for a thorough evaluation of the entire urinary tract. A diagnosis of prostate cancer must be considered.

Man going to the bathroom at night
(© cliplab.pro – stock.adobe.com)

Lump in the testes

A small, rock-hard lump in the testes, sometimes with pain, should get immediate medical attention to evaluate it for testicular cancer. Some additional commonly observed symptoms include sudden shrinking of a testicle, swelling and fluid in the scrotum, or a dull ache in the lower abdomen.

There are several factors which may contribute to testicular cancer. Those factors include undescended testes, close relatives with testicular cancer, and congenital abnormalities of the testes.

The most important guidance you can take from this article is:

  • Know your own body.
  • If something is new or different, seek medical attention.

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About the Author

Dr. Faith Coleman

Dr. Coleman is a graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and holds a BA in journalism from UNM. She completed her family practice residency at Wm. Beaumont Hospital, Troy and Royal Oak, MI, consistently ranked among the United States Top 100 Hospitals by US News and World Report. Dr. Coleman writes on health, medicine, family, and parenting for online information services and educational materials for health care providers.

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