Seven signs of cancer that can be easy to miss

If you're concerned, see your doctor

woman massaging shoulder

You might know the more common symptoms of cancer, but it's worth knowing about the more subtle signs too. Of course, not every ache and pain means the worst - but if you're concerned or notice other symptoms, it's worth making an appointment to see your doctor.

1. Arm or shoulder pain
Persistent shoulder, arm, back or chest pain can indicate lung cancer, caused by enlarged lymph nodes pressing on nerves. Unlike a sore muscle, the pain is constant and may feel similar to arthritis. Many people with lung cancer have some shoulder or chest pain at the time of diagnosis, especially pain that gets worse with coughing.

There are usually no signs in the early stages of lung cancer, symptoms only appear as the condition progresses. Symptoms include breathlessness, a pain or ache in the chest when breathing, a stubborn cough that lasts several weeks, repeated chest infections, coughing up blood, unexplained weight loss and fatigue. Pain or discomfort between the shoulder blades can also be a sign of oesophageal cancer.

2. A "coarse" patch of skin on your breast
You know to check for lumps in your breast, but did you know that subtle changes in skin texture, such as a patch of skin that feels grainy, thick or coarse, could indicate cancer? Rashes or redness, skin flakiness, and itching around the nipple, can also signal a problem.

Symptoms depend on the position of the cancer. For example, a tumour confined to the breast ducts may not create a lump because the disease can extend down the length of the duct inside the breast tissue. While not every change in skin texture signals cancer, it's best to be vigilant.

Seven signs of cancer that are easy to miss continues after video

Lesser Known Signs Of Breast Cancer

3. Mouth ulcers
Mouth ulcers can be caused by many things, and tend to crop up when we're feeling run down. Ulcers caused by mouth cancer are usually single and appear on or under the tongue, though can sometimes appear elsewhere in the mouth. If the ulcer lasts for more than three weeks, without any easily identifiable cause, see your GP, especially if you're a heavy drinker or smoker.

Other symptoms of oral cancer include lumps or raised sores with red or white borders in the mouth or throat, a tooth that becomes loose for no obvious reason, difficulty moving the jaw, pain or difficulty swallowing, voice changes, swollen glands in the neck, loss of taste, and bleeding or numbness.

4. Loose stools
Not everyone with bowel cancer gets blood in their stools. For some people, the only sign is loose stools and needing to use the toilet more often. In fact, the symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and won't necessarily make you feel unwell.

If you experience changes in your bowel habits, abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating caused by eating, it's best to get checked out (especially if you're over the age of 60). And if you should notice blood on or in your stools, don't presume it's just piles – see your doctor straight away.

5. Bad breath
In the vast majority of cases, bad breath is caused by poor dental hygiene and the food we eat - though certain medications, smoking, and crash dieting can also be to blame. Having said that, bad breath can be caused by a number of medical problems, including lung, throat or nose infections, bronchitis, sinusitis, diabetes and some forms of cancer.

Mouth cancer, lung cancer and cancer of the larynx can all result in bad breath. Scientists are aware that lung cancer results in a distinctive type of breath odour, and are now developing a breath test to help in early detection.

6. Abdominal bloating
Increased abdominal size and persistent bloating is a common symptom of ovarian cancer. Because bloating is associated with less serious conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and pre-menstrual syndrome, they are often dismissed by sufferers (and misdiagnosed by GPs) in the early stages of cancer.

Other symptoms to watch for include persistent pelvic and abdominal pain, feeling full quickly after eating or feeling nauseous, needing to urinate more frequently, back pain, changes in your bowel habits and prolonged fatigue.

7. Difficulty swallowing
Difficulty swallowing (along with regurgitating food or saliva) can be caused by gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) where stomach acid leaks back up into the oesophagus - but it can also be a sign of oesophageal cancer.

Difficulties swallowing only occur once the tumour has become large enough to prevent food from travelling to the stomach. People may experience pain or a burning sensation when they swallow, or feel as if food is getting stuck. Other symptoms include weight loss (because of difficulties eating and/or the cancer's harmful effects on the body), persistent indigestion, hoarseness, a cough that won't go away, vomiting and coughing up blood, and pain in the chest or between the shoulder blades.

Related video:
How to Do a Breast Self-Exam

Three books you might be interested to read:

Do I Have Cancer?: Signs, Symptoms, Diagnoses, and Treatments of Fifty Common Cancers, £15.02

Living Through Breast Cancer, £15.99

Living With Cancer, £14.99