In recent years, health experts have made a strong push to educate women about the need to undergo regular cancer screenings. While nearly 65 percent of women over the age of 40 have undergone a mammogram at some point during the last two years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no type of screening test can catch cancer with 100 percent accuracy. Since testing only offers a limited ability to uncover cancer during the disease’s early stages, a woman needs to know her body in order to enjoy the best possible health.
Women who intimately understand their bodies can often pick up on signs of when something doesn’t feel quite right that routine cancer screenings might miss. However, just because a woman thinks something might be wrong doesn’t mean she will seek the necessary treatment. In many instances, women often delay visiting the doctor out of fear that their suspicions will be proven correct. Other times a woman may misinterpret or minimize symptoms that could indicate cancer.
To help you understand what signs shouldn’t be ignored, here are five symptoms every woman should stay on the lookout for.
Any lump found in the breast should not be ignored, even if you have recently undergone a clean mammogram. If a nipple begins to develop flaking or become scaly it could signify Paget’s disease, which links to underlying cancer in roughly 95 percent of all cases. Additionally, a physician should also check out any bloody or milky discharge from the nipple, as these symptoms can also be a sign of an underlying disease.
Following menopause (defined as one year without a period), a woman should take any postmenopausal bleeding as a serious warning sign. Any degree of bleeding, from small droplets to big clots, should be considered abnormal and requires immediate investigation. This type of bleeding may indicate a variety of problems, including something benign like an endometrial polyp or a more serious condition as cervical cancer.
For premenopausal women, any uncharacteristic bleeding (heavier periods or spotting outside of the normal menstrual cycle) also needs investigating.
The third most common cancer in women, rectal bleeding ranks as the hallmark symptom of colon cancer. Even though the common cause of this symptom is hemorrhoids, anytime you notice dark or red blood in the stool you need to have a talk with your doctor.
A foul-smelling discharge from the vagina could be an early sign of cervical cancer. This type of discharge can occur between periods or after menopause and may contain blood. Even if an infection is the likely source of this type of symptom, you should not attempt to self-treat this condition with over-the-counter medication. An exam performed by a physician is needed to determine the cause of any discharge.
With the highest mortality rate of any cancer that develops in the reproductive organs, ovarian cancer has the misleading reputation of being the “silent killer.” However, the disease has a number of warning signs for women who know what to look out for, including chronic bloating, feeling full more quickly than normal when eating, a change in bladder or bowel habits, and pelvic or low back pain.
It’s normal for many women to experience one or two of these symptoms after eating, especially following a large meal. But if you notice experiencing more than two of these symptoms daily for at least two weeks, you need to call your physician to schedule an appointment.