Signs and symptoms of any disease may vary from patient to patient.  However, some initial symptoms may arouse suspicion that a patient may have cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is a group of diseases that may cause almost any sign or symptom.  Signs and symptoms will depend on the location and size as well as how much it affects a given organ or tissue.  If the cancer spreads (metastasizes), then the signs and symptoms may appear in different parts of the body.

As the cancer grows, it starts putting pressure on the surrounding organs, blood vessels, and nerves, which is when the signs and symptoms appear for the first time.  In delicate areas like the brain, symptoms appear earlier.

Unfortunately, some types of cancer may stay unnoticed for a long time and only become noticeable when they are in advanced stages.  For example, there is a type of cancer that grows around the bile duct, impeding the flow of bile through this duct at some point.  When this situation arises, the eyes and skin appear yellowish, a condition known as jaundice.  Although jaundice may be indicative of many other conditions, when it is associated with cancer it often means the cancer is in an advanced stage.

Signs and Symptoms

There is an important difference between signs and symptoms.  Signs are usually noticed by others and not by the patient.

“A sign may be noticed by someone else, usually a relative of the patient, a doctor, nurse or another medical professional.  For example, fever, rapid breathing, abnormal noises in the lungs heard only by the physician using the stethoscope” the American Cancer Society states.

A symptom is what the patient notices.  It may be an unusual feeling or difference that others may not notice easily.  For example, weakness, muscular pain, difficulties to breath, etc.

Based solely on signs and symptoms, cancer may be confused with other diseases.  This is why is very important to not self-diagnose but to see a doctor as soon as possible.

1. Weight Loss

Inexplicable weight loss may be caused by cancer.  This situation is rather common in pancreas, stomach, esophagus, and lung cancer.

2. Fever

Fever is very common in patients with cancer.  However, it is more frequent when cancer has spread from its original site.  Almost every patient with cancer will experience fever at some point of their illness, especially if their cancer type or treatment affects the immune system.

3. Fatigue
Fatigue is an extreme physical exhaustion that does not resolve with sleep.  Fatigue may be an important symptom as the cancer progresses.  However, in some types of cancer such as leukemia, fatigue may occur at the onset.

Stomach cancer or colon cancer, among others, may also cause internal bleeding and cause the patient to feel fatigued.

4. Pain

Pain could be an initial symptom in cancers like bone cancer or testicular cancer.  Headaches that do not resolve may indicate the presence of a brain tumor.

Back pain may indicate colon, ovarian, or rectum cancer.

In patients with cancer, pain often indicates metastasis.

5. Changes in the skin

Along with skin cancer, other types may cause changes in the skin such as:

  • Darkening of the skin (hyperpigmentation)
  • Yellow appearance of skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Reddening of the skin (erythema)
  • Itching (pruritus)
  • Excessive hair growth

Other important signs and symptoms that may appear due to cancer are:

  • Changes in the bladder function.
  • Wounds that will not heal.
  • White spots in the tongue or in other oral tissues.
  • Spontaneous bleeding or unusual secretion.
  • Protuberances or unusual masses under the skin in breasts, testicles, etc.
  • Indigestion or difficulties to swallow.
  • Fast changes in moles or in the surface of the skin.
  • Persistent cough and changes in the voice.

Information Excerpted from: American Cancer Society.

If you would like to learn more about cancer treatment in Costa Rica, or would like to speak with a cancer specialist or oncologist in Costa Rica, please fill out the “Find a Doctor” form.  A participating medical specialist will contact you to discuss your case.