15:57 PM

Do You Know Cancer’s Warning Signs?

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Adam Kotkiewicz, DO, is a hematologist oncologist with LVPG Hematology Oncology–Muhlenberg.

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Through the years, you tend to develop a working knowledge of the warning signs of many illnesses either from your own experience or through the experience of others. You start sneezing and have a runny nose, you’ll probably think you’re getting a cold or having allergy problems. If you experience chest tightness or a shortness of breath, you know it might mean a heart attack.

Cancer has some classic warning signs as well, but a recent study indicated that many people either don’t know about them or simply choose to ignore them. That study was conducted in England and focused on 1,700 people age 50 and older, asking them if they had experienced certain symptoms in the previous three months. If they responded yes to any of the symptoms, they were asked to list a possible cause and then add if they considered the symptom serious enough to consult a doctor.

More than half of the study subjects reported at least one symptom. Only 2 percent thought it might be cancer related, and most didn’t see the symptom as serious enough to be checked.

“Recognition can be a difficult thing for some people” says Lehigh Valley Health Network hematologist oncologist Adam Kotkiewicz, DO, with LVPG Hematology Oncology–Muhlenberg. “I make it a point to spend as much time with my patients as they need. I address every symptom and every one of their fears as best as I possibly can.”

Thanks to advances in research, significantly fewer people are dying from cancer today than even 20 years ago. That’s because more people are taking advantage of cancer screenings and catching the disease in its early stages. The American Cancer Society has a list of guidelines to follow in regard to these important screenings.

But not all cancers have screenings, so it’s important to know cancer’s warning signs and see a physician if you experience one. Be sure to maintain an annual checkup as well, as not all cancers have warning signals.

The following symptoms could signal cancer, or could be related to any number of health issues that have nothing to do with cancer:

  • A lump in the breast or other part of the body
  • Skin problems, such as a sore that doesn’t heal or a mole that has changed shape or size
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • A chronic cough
  • Pain that doesn’t go away, such as a headache or backache
  • Changes in bathroom habits, such as constipation, bloody stool or frequent urination
  • Unusual bleeding
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Unexplained fever and fatigue

“We’re a lot better prepared to tackle cancer today,” Kotkiewicz says. “But it’s still important to get screened, and it’s also important not to ignore cancer’s warning signs. It can save your life.”