You might know that finding a lump in your breast means you should have it looked at. But lumps in tissue are not the only signs you need to be aware of when it comes to cancer. Odd or unfamiliar symptoms, like swelling in your neck, skin sores that won’t heal, or unrelenting pain, deserve the same sort of vigilance.

There’s no need to leap to hair-raising conclusions—What if it’s cancer?—when it could easily be something else. But the sooner you know what’s ailing you, the quicker you and a healthcare provider can take appropriate action.

If you think something is amiss, getting it checked out as early as possible is crucial. Cancers that are detected early can be treated before they get a chance to spread other parts of the body.1 Some cancer screening procedures require seeing a healthcare provider, but you can also do self-examinations at home.

Depending on your symptoms, medical history, and physical exam results, healthcare providers may order specific diagnostic tests or procedures to look for cancer. If cancer is found, they can also determine whether and how far it has spread.

We asked physicians specializing in head-and-neck, gynecologic, breast, blood, lung, skin, and other malignancies to describe little-known cancer symptoms you should know about. Some of these indicators are surprising, and others are more intuitive, but none should ever be ignored.

A Pearly Pimple

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, and there are several different types. The main ones are squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and, somewhat less common, melanoma.2

Marc Glashofer, MD, a board-certified, private-practice dermatologist specializing in skin cancer in Northern New Jersey, told Health that basal cell carcinomas sometimes have a pearly translucent or waxy appearance. Other times these cancers look like sores, scaly patches, or cyst-like bumps.

Foreign Body Sensation

An annoying lump-in-the-throat feeling often goes hand-in-hand with acid reflux. But sometimes, that awkward sensation is telling you a tumor is present.

Prolonged Itching

Some cancers, like lymphomas, can make people extremely itchy. Lymphomas are types of cancer that affect the lymph system (part of your immune system). They include Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Regardless of the type, lymphomas can cause itchiness.

Ear Pain

What does it mean when one ear constantly aches, but there’s no sign of infection? It may not be an ear problem at all. It might be “referred otalgia,” meaning pain that travels to the ear from nerves in the head or neck.5 Lots of conditions can trigger this sort of ear discomfort. One of them is oral cancer.

Vaginal Bleeding

Spotting or irregular periods may be due to a hormonal imbalance. It can also signal the presence of uterine fibroids or polyps. Sometimes, though, unusual bleeding is a sign of endometrial cancer. Endometrial cancer is the more common type of uterine cancer and can often be cured.

A Droopy Eyelid

A droopy upper eyelid can be a sign of aging, injury, or disease (like stroke). It can also alert healthcare providers to a so-called Pancoast tumor at the very top of your lung.

A Pancoast tumor is a type of lung cancer that begins in the upper part of a lung and spreads to nearby tissues such as the ribs and vertebrae. Most Pancoast tumors are non-small cell cancers.

Scaly Patches or Warty Lumps

A red, scaly patch of skin does not need to cause alarm right away. If it’s on a sun-exposed area of your body and it’s still there eight weeks later, don’t assume it’s eczema, cautioned Dr. Glashofer. It could be a sign of squamous cell carcinoma.

This type of skin cancer sometimes has a “warty-looking” or “dome-shaped” appearance. It commonly appears on the head, neck, and back of the hands.10 Some people tend to find it on the front of their legs from years and years of sun exposure, said Dr. Glashofer.


Blood in your stool (if it’s not caused by a hemorrhoid) is a classic sign of colorectal cancer, the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S

By health and wellness.

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