“You have cancer.”
No one wants to hear that sentence. Unfortunately, the fear of those words can cause some patients to delay seeing a doctor – and delaying care can mean a great deal when it comes to cancer treatment. As physicians, we can all tell the story of a patient who ignored their symptoms for months or even years, and waited too long to be diagnosed. It is heartbreaking for us to know that we likely would have had a better outcome, if only the patient had faced their fears and sought medical help earlier.
Every patient is different, and every diagnosis is unique. But it is important to keep in mind that every year, the odds of beating cancer get better. Early detection, along with improvements in treatment, are greatly improving survival rates. For many cancers, screening tests are available. Your physician will take into account many risk factors, such as your age, medical history, and family history, and make recommendations about which tests you need.
There are some symptoms that you should never ignore:
• Skin: Most moles appear by young adulthood, so new moles or other growths that appear later in life should be checked. Watch for changes in size and color, and show your doctor any sores or patches that bleed easily or don’t heal after a few weeks.
• Breast: Do your self-exam every month, and tell your doctor if you feel any sort of lump or mass, or swelling of the breast even if you don’t feel a distinct lump. Also report any dimpling, scaliness or redness, discharge, or other changes to the nipple.
• Prostate: Although most early stage prostate cancer causes no symptoms, tell your doctor if you have any trouble passing urine or blood in the urine.
• Colon / Rectal: Changes in bowel habits that last more than a few days should be reported to your doctor, as well as blood in the stool or rectal bleeding.
• Lung: A cough that does not go away with treatment, or worsens, should be seen by a physician. Also see your doctor if you are coughing up blood or have chest pain that worsens with deep breathing, or when you cough or laugh.
• In general, see your doctor if you have any unusual bleeding, unintended weight loss or gain, extreme fatigue or bone pain that lasts more than a few weeks.
If you suspect something is wrong, don’t let fear stand in your way – see your doctor. Remember that for every symptom, there are many possible causes. Even if your diagnosis is cancer, your odds for a better outcome, and maybe less extensive treatment, are much better with early detection.
Questions? Call us anytime. We are here to help.