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Did you know your whole body — not just your mouth — can be an excellent communicator? Recognizing changes in your body can help in the early detection and treatment of cancer and other serious medical problems.

There are numerous warning symptoms for cancer, many of which also can point to other serious medical conditions. According to Edward Chu, MD, chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology at UPMC and deputy director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, you should call your primary care physician (PCP) if you have any unusual or persistent symptoms that last longer than two to three weeks.

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Symptoms to Watch

Common cancer warnings that most know about include:

  • A sore that does not heal
  • A thickening or lump in the breast, or lumps in other parts of the body
  • Blood in the stool or urine
  • Changes in the size or color of a mole on the skin

It is also important to be aware of more generalized body changes (also known as constitutional symptoms) that can compromise your overall well-being. They can include:

  • Increasing tiredness (fatigue)
  • Unexplained weight loss (typically 10 pounds or more) or loss of appetite
  • Changes in how food tastes or smells
  • Fever and chills
  • Night sweats
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Unexplained headaches that persist

However, do not assume you have cancer just because of unusual symptoms. “These symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have cancer,” said Dr. Chu. “But if they worsen or linger for a prolonged period, it’s important for your doctor to rule out — or treat — possible problems.”

By getting to know what’s typical for your own body, you’ll be better able to recognize unfamiliar changes when they occur.

About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and Maryland, with more than 200 oncologists. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment.