How Do You Feel if You Have Cancer?

Medically Reviewed on 2/9/2022
cancer symptoms
Although patients may not experience symptoms during the initial stages of cancer, understanding the C.A.U.T.I.O.N. acronym can help spot the early signs.

Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells that may form a mass or lump. Once cancer cells start developing, they multiply in number rapidly, and the newly formed cells do not function like normal cells. The patient may not experience any signs and symptoms, especially during the initial stages.

Certain early signs can be observed by a cancer patient, which may vary depending on the type of cancer. For example, breast cancer may cause a palpable breast lump, colon cancer may cause a change in bowel habits, and lung cancer may cause a stubborn cough.

The acronym for early signs of cancer is CAUTION.

  • C: Change in bowel or bladder habits
    • Bowel habits: Everyone has a consistent pattern of bowel movements. If this suddenly changes or if people experience diarrhea or constipation for days on end, it is time to contact a doctor. If these bowel habits do not change with over-the-counter medications or home remedies, it is advised to consult a doctor to know the root cause. This could be an indication of stomach cancer or colorectal cancer. This type of cancer is becoming more common globally because people's lifestyles keep changing.
    • Bladder habits: In terms of bladder habits, the patient may observe changes in the color of the urine, such as deep yellow or reddish, which indicates the presence of blood. These could be signs of kidney or bladder cancer though this is extremely unusual. Deep yellow urine may suggest jaundice, and jaundice may be a sign of cancer in the liver or pancreas. In men, trouble passing pee or a frequent urge to urinate could be signs of an enlarged prostate, which is a risk factor for prostate cancer.
  • A: A sore that does not heal
    • If a wound does not heal and continues to bother, it could be a sign of cancer. Repeated trauma can exacerbate these wounds. If cancer is left untreated for months or years, it can spread into the skin. This results in an open sore (ulcer) on the skin's surface. If such a sore is found in the mouth, it could be an indication of oral cancer.
  • U: Unusual bleeding or discharge
    • If a person has a bloody discharge from their nipples, this could be an indication of breast cancer. Sudden vaginal bleeding in women who have already reached menopause could be a symptom of uterine cancer. Even if the person has had a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus), such bleeding could suggest vaginal cancer.
    • Most women suffer irregular periods or cramps on occasion. However, prolonged pain or abnormalities in the cycle may indicate cervical, uterine, or ovarian cancer.
  • T: Thickening or lump in the breast or elsewhere
    • Formation of lumps that may cause pain and discomfort is mostly seen with breast cancers. Women with noncancerous tumors tend to ignore and dismiss the lump. Generally, pain is the very last symptom of most tumors. A painless breast lump is more harmful than a painful one. All lumps may not be cancerous, but a thorough investigation and regular follow-ups with the doctor are advised because they may turn cancerous.
    • Men account for one percent of all breast cancer cases. Unfortunately, most incidences of breast cancer in men are identified late due to ignorance and stigma.
    • Even if it is a lump in another area, such as the limbs, head, or underarms, and it is rapidly growing, it is important to consult a doctor.
  • I: Indigestion or difficulty swallowing
    • Difficulty swallowing is often misdiagnosed as a throat infection or something else. If the symptoms, such as throat pain and difficulty swallowing, and other symptoms of indigestion, such as heartburn, persist even after taking medication, immediate medical attention is advised because it may indicate esophageal, throat, or thyroid cancer.
    • Everyone feels bloated sometimes. Bloating for more than two weeks, however, can be an indication of ovarian cancer or gastrointestinal cancers.
  • O: Obvious changes in warts or moles
    • Melanoma may be detected when moles or warts start to grow or bleed. These changes in the appearance of moles should be evaluated by the doctor.
  • N: Nagging cough or hoarseness
    • This should be a red flag, especially for smokers. A persistent cough could be a sign of lung or throat cancer.

All these symptoms do not always indicate cancer, but one should be on the lookout for physical changes and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

8 symptoms of cancer

The following symptoms should not be ignored, and if they persist, immediate screening for the cause is to be done.

  1. Unexplained weight loss even when the patient does not try to lose weight
  2. Persistent fatigue or change in energy levels even after sleeping more
  3. Persistent pain anywhere or throughout the body without any cause
  4. Formation of painful sores or lesions in the mouth
  5. Headaches that last for weeks and do not subside with over-the-counter medications
  6. Bruising with slight pressure or simple hit on the skin
  7. Frequent infections or an increase in body’s temperature and night sweats indicate weakened immunity seen with certain types of cancers
  8. Changes in vision and hearing

9 emotional changes seen in a patient with cancer

Once cancer is confirmed, the patient’s mental health may be impacted and may fall into crisis. It is the duty of the doctor and the patient’s loved ones to understand the mental status of the patient and provide appropriate support.

All such emotions may include:

  1. Shock:
    • The patients are at first shocked when they are diagnosed with cancer or learn cancer has returned or has progressed despite treatment. It can leave the patient confused and numb.
    • Shock can make it difficult to process information or accomplish routine tasks. The patient may even lose track of where they are or feel as if the time has stopped.
  2. Denial:
    • Denial is the mind's approach to dealing with uncomfortable information, such as a cancer diagnosis. A brief period of denial might be beneficial in some ways because it allows the patient to feel less overwhelmed by the news.
    • Denial usually disappears in some time. However, it can be a problem if it lasts for more than a few weeks or months and prevents the patient from receiving treatment or making vital decisions.
    • True denial occurs when a person refuses to accept or acknowledge the diagnosis. This is unusual.
  3. Fear:
    • A cancer diagnosis is terrifying. The patient may feel as if their life is out of control at times and have no idea what the future holds. This is especially true right after diagnosis, but these sentiments may come and go during and after therapy.
    • Fear and anxiety decrease for many people when they learn more about cancer and what to expect from therapy. The patient may feel more in command once they have established a therapy program.
  4. Anger:
    • Anger is a common reaction to something that appears to be unfair. The patient may be angry with cancer, at healthcare experts, or friends and relatives, who are healthy or do not understand what they are going through. The patient may be upset with their God or even with themselves.
    • People may become furious instead of expressing other feelings, such as fear or grief.
  5. Guilt:
    • The patient may question if there was anything that could have been done to prevent it or detect it sooner. The patient may feel remorse for how the sickness impacts their loved ones.
    • Patients should not be blamed for cancer.
  6. Anxiety:
    • Anxiety indicates that the patient is overly concerned and unable to relax.
    • If the patient is worried about stress, they may meet a counselor or enroll in a class that teaches stress management techniques. The goal is to learn to regulate the stress rather than allowing it to control them.
    • The patient may have noticed certain signs, such as:
      • Faster heartbeats
      • Headaches and muscle pains
      • Either eat more or not eat at all
      • Always dizzy, shaky, or weak
      • Tightness in throat or chest
      • Sickness in stomach
      • Improper sleep
      • Difficulty concentrating
  7. Isolation:
    • It is natural to feel lonely or alone once treatment ends. The patient will be spending a lot more time alone, especially during time off from work.
    • Even though the patient may be surrounded by family and friends, the patient may still feel lonely. This happens if the patient believes that the people around do not or cannot understand what they have been through.
  8. Depression:
    • Many cancer patients are depressed. They mourn the loss of their health and the life they had before learning they had the disease. Even after they have completed treatment, they may still be sad. This is a typical reaction to any acute sickness. It may take some time to process and accept all the changes that are occurring.
    • Eventually, the patient gets depressed, feels tired, or refuses to eat. For some, these feelings fade or diminish over time. However, for other people, these feelings can become more intense, stay for long, and interfere with daily life.
  9. Hope:
    • When patients acknowledge that they have cancer, they may develop a sense of hope. There are numerous reasons to be optimistic. Millions of cancer survivors are alive and thriving. The chances of surviving cancer are better now than they have ever been. People with cancer can live active lives even while undergoing treatment.
    • Some physicians believe that hope can help the body fight cancer. As a result, experts are investigating whether a hopeful view and a positive mindset may help people feel better.
    • Here are some ideas to increase the sense of hope.
      • Plan the days the same way as always
      • Never stop doing enjoyable things for cancer
      • Look for reasons to be optimistic
      • Spend time outside in nature
      • Consider religious or spiritual convictions
      • Listen to stories about cancer patients who are leading active lives


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Medically Reviewed on 2/9/2022
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Gale RP. Symptoms of Cancer. MSD Manuals.

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