5 cancer symptoms women shouldn’t ignore


by Tiffany Redfern, MD

Apr 21, 2022

Sometimes, as women, we have a hard time prioritizing ourselves. We take care of our other priorities, such as family and work, before we take care of our own needs. In doing this, it’s all too easy to ignore common cancer symptoms for far too long.

Here’s what I want you to hear today—putting yourself first and paying attention to your body may help you detect a gynecologic malignancy such as ovarian, endometrial or cervical cancer. Don’t ignore any symptoms or put off going to the doctor.

Let’s run through some of the symptoms that may point to gynecologic cancer.

What symptoms should I watch out for?

1. Unexpected weight changes

This is a very common symptom. You may feel like you are bloated but also losing weight. Weight changes can also be a sign of many other issues, such as thyroid disease or other cancers. It’s important to let your doctor know if you suddenly lose more than 10 pounds without changing your diet or exercise habits.

2. Loss of appetite

Feeling full before you are finished with your meal or experiencing loss of appetite may be a sign of cancer or another serious condition. You should talk to your doctor immediately.

3. Acid reflux and/or bloating

Does it seem like you hardly eat but your stomach often feels full, bloated or even bigger than usual? Frequent heartburn or gas for months are commonly experienced during the time leading up to a cancer diagnosis.

4. Vaginal bleeding or abnormal discharge

You should be evaluated if you start noticing watery or abnormal discharge. Bleeding between periods or abnormally heavy periods can be a sign of cancer and should be evaluated.

Bleeding after menopause, even if it’s just a small amount, should not happen. Talk to your doctor immediately if this occurs.

5. Change in bathroom habits

Changes to your regular bowel movements (constipation or diarrhea) or urination habits (increased frequency, difficulty voiding, feeling of pressure on your bladder) could be due to a mass in the abdomen or pelvis. Pay attention to the consistency and frequency of your stool, as changes may be a sign of cancer.  

When to see your doctor

The most important component of cancer detection is being evaluated by your healthcare provider at least once per year. This visit should include a thorough pelvic exam. If your primary care physician does not provide pelvic exams and/or cervical cancer screening if indicated, you should also see a gynecologist annually.

If you have any of the above symptoms, you should not wait until your annual exam to be evaluated. Unfortunately, with the exception of cervical cancer, there is no screening for most gynecologic cancers. A pap smear only screens for cervical cancer. There is currently no approved annual screening test for ovarian or uterine cancers.

Therefore, it is important to share all your concerns and symptoms with your OBGYN or other healthcare provider, even if you think they are not pertinent to the exam. While most of these symptoms can seem vague and common, discussing them with your doctor could increase your odds of finding cancer early—when it’s most treatable.

Concerned about a new or lingering symptom? Talk to your doctor or find an OBGYN near you today.

About the Author

Tiffany Redfern, MD, is a gynecologic oncologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth.

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