The word cancer is highlighted pink.
In order to live longer and healthier lives, we must listen to our bodies and be ever vigilant against signs and symptoms of cancer. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Many people may be unfamiliar with common cancer symptoms, and this lack of awareness may mean opportunities for early treatment are being missed.

A survey of 1,700 people ages 50 and older listed 17 symptoms, including 10 widely known potential cancer warning signs:

  • Unexplained cough or hoarseness
  • Persistent change in bowel habits
  • Unexplained pain
  • Persistent change in bladder habits
  • Unexplained lump
  • A change in the appearance of a mole
  • A sore that does not heal
  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent difficulty in swallowing

While 53 percent of those surveyed reported that they had at least one of these red-flag cancer symptoms during the previous three months, only 2 percent said they thought cancer was a possible cause. Instead, they attributed symptoms to things such as age, infection, arthritis, cysts and hemorrhoids.

Most people who have these warning signs won’t have cancer as many non-cancerous conditions can cause these symptoms. Those conditions, however, would also benefit from early diagnosis and treatment.

“It’s important to be evaluated by a doctor if you have any of these symptoms, particularly if they’re severe or last more than one or two weeks,” said Judy Smith, MD, chief of the Spectrum Health Cancer Center. “When we can catch any disease early in its course, we have the best chance of achieving a successful outcome.”

Prevention and early detection are the most important tools to fight cancer and save lives.

Dr. Smith stressed the importance of seeing a primary care physician routinely and obtaining mammograms, colonoscopies and other cancer screenings—testing before you have symptoms—as recommended.