No one likes to think about cancer, but knowing the associated signs and symptoms to look out for can enable you to diagnose the condition in its early stages, and potentially prevent it from spreading further.
As a woman, it's vital that you empower yourself by taking your health into your own hands as no one else can physically examine you on a daily basis. After all, nobody knows your body like you do.
Learning to self-examine may not sound like a lot of fun, but the following checklist is worth paying attention to, as it could just save your life.
Check your breasts regularly. Examine the breasts, nipple and underarm area using your fingertips and feel for any lumps, swelling, tenderness, discharge or bleeding. Checking your breasts in the mirror is also a good idea, to assess any changes more thoroughly. If the skin around your breast has become inflamed or if the nipples look asymmetrical or puckered then it's worth having a more thorough breast exam.
Chronic pelvic pain, abdominal swelling and persistent bloating can have many underlying causes, but it's a good idea to get chronic symptoms such as these checked by your GP in case it's a more serious problem such as ovarian cancer.
Abnormal bleeding when you're not on your period, coughing up blood up from your stomach or skin that bleeds and won't heal are all common signs associated with cervical, colon, stomach, lung, skin or throat cancers.
Lower back pain could be a sign of ovarian or even uterine cancer, especially if it's persistent and combined with a bloated or full feeling in the abdomen. These are early symptoms of cancer and, if caught early, it can be stopped from spreading. If you notice consistent pain in your abdomen then you should seek the advice of a doctor as soon as possible.
Changes in the genital region. If you notice any differences in your vagina, particularly the labia and vulva, or any abnormal discharge, pain or bleeding, then this could be an infection or a sign of a sexually transmitted disease. It could also be an early symptom of cervical cancer and is worth getting checked out to be certain. A smear test will usually be taken to check the health of the cells lining the cervix and to determine if there are any abnormal changes. When abnormalities are caught early, it's estimated that around 75% of cervical cancers can be prevented.
Persistent or chronic fatigue for six months or longer may be one symptom you put down to a stressful life and the price you pay for having a career, household, relationship and children to manage; but if you're experiencing ongoing fatigue to the detriment of your overall health and wellbeing then you should seek the advice of a doctor. Feeling constantly tired isn't healthy and if you're usually lacking in energy it may require a medical diagnosis to determine the exact cause.
Look out for an upcoming blog post in this series, outlining the cancer checks all men should be doing.