We are often told that catching cancer in its early stages can greatly increase the chances of recovery and even survival.
Despite this, new research has found that half of UK adults with possible symptoms of the disease do not contact their GP in the first six months of feeling ill.
A YouGov survey of 2,468 people found that only 48 per cent of those who had experienced a “red flag” symptom, such as unexplained weight loss and a new or unusual lump, contacted their GP in half year.
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of CRUK, said detecting cancer early was “vital” if more people are to survive.
“The first step in this process is to get help for a possible cancer symptom,” he explained.
But what are the red flag symptoms you should watch out for?
1. Unexplained pain
It is normal to experience more pain as we age.
However, unexplained pain can be a sign that something more serious could be going on.
2. Very intense night sweats
Overheating and night sweats can be caused by infections or can be a side effect of certain medications.
It is also often suffered by women during menopause.
But heavy, heavy night sweats can also be a sign of leukemia-related cancers.
3. Unexplained weight loss
Small changes in weight over time are quite normal, but if you lose a noticeable amount of weight without trying it’s worth telling your doctor.
According to the American Cancer Society, unexplained weight loss is often the first noticeable symptom of cancers of the esophagus, pancreas, stomach, and lung.
4. Swelling or unusual swelling
Persistent lumps or swelling anywhere on the body should always be checked by an expert doctor.
This includes any lump in the neck, armpit, stomach, groin, chest, breast or testicle.
Feeling tired is quite normal and can be caused by stress, not eating enough or simply not getting enough sleep.
However, if you feel tired for no apparent reason, it may be a sign that something is wrong: talk to your doctor.
Fatigue can be a symptom of blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.
This is because these cancers start in the bone marrow, which produces red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body.
6. Skin changes
When a spot, wart, or sore won’t heal, even if it’s painless, a doctor should check it out.
Similarly, you should also be aware of new or existing moles that change size, shape, or color, crust over, itch, hurt, bleed, or ooze.
Any unusual change in a patch of skin or nail, whether it’s a new change or has been there for a while, should be checked by your doctor.
7. Difficulty swallowing
It’s worth seeing your doctor if you have difficulty swallowing and it’s not related to another condition you already have.
Difficulty swallowing can be a symptom of esophageal cancer.
8. Digestive problems
These include painful heartburn, persistent loss of appetite or bloating (even if you go and see, talk to your doctor).
Digestive problems can be an early symptom of gastric cancer.
9. Hoarse voice, persistent cough or shortness of breath
Having a hoarse voice that has not gone away on its own should be checked.
As it should be an unexplained cough does not go away in a few weeks.
It’s not unusual to feel short of breath from time to time. But if you notice that you feel short of breath more than usual or for a long time, tell your doctor.
If you have a hoarse voice for more than 3 weeks, it could be a sign of laryngeal cancer, according to the NHS website.
10. Changes in your poop or pee
A change in bowel habits may include constipation, loose poop, or pooping more often can also be a sign of something more serious.
Problems urinating can be the need to go more often or urgently, experiencing pain when urinating or not being able to go when you need to.
11. Unexplained bleeding or bleeding
Unexplained bleeding can often be caused by something much less serious than cancer, but you should always tell your doctor.
This includes blood in your poop or pee, and vomiting or coughing up blood, regardless of the amount or color (it can be red or a darker color like brown or black).
It also includes any unexplained vaginal bleeding between periods, after sex, or after menopause.
12. Mouth ulcer or patch that does not heal
It’s common to get ulcers (small sores) in your mouth when you’re a little down. These usually improve in about two weeks.
But an ulcer or a red or white patch that does not heal after 3 weeks should be reported to your doctor or dentist.
13. Unusual breast changes
Lumps, changes in the size, shape or feel of a breast, or any skin changes, redness or breast pain are worth checking out.
Changes in your nipple, including fluid that might be blood-stained, nipple leakage if you’re not pregnant, or breastfeeding are also worth keeping an eye on.
It’s not always easy to talk about cancer, but a conversation with your GP could save your life.
If you have any of these “red flag” symptoms, it’s very important to get checked out by your family doctor.
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