Center for Asbestos Safety

Signs and symptoms related to cancer

What are signs and symptoms?

A sign, in context on an illness, is an indication that something is not right within the body. However, signs are specific signals that can be noticed by a nurse, doctor or other health care professional. For instance, fast breathing, fever, and irregular breathing sounds being audible through a stethoscope can indicate towards pneumonia.

A symptom is also a signal that can be indicative of an illness, injury, disease or that something has gone wrong in the body. Symptoms are noticed or felt by the individual who has them, but it may be difficult for anyone else to see it. For instance, weakness, aches, chills and shortness of breath may be symptoms of pneumonia.

Having a single sign or symptom may not be enough to find out the cause of the same. For instance, if a child has developed rashes, it could be a sign of several different things such as a skin infection, food allergy, an infectious disease like measles, or poison ivy. But, if the same rashes are accompanied by other types of signs and symptoms such as chills, high fever, a sore throat and aches, then it will provide the doctor a clearer picture of the probable illness. In a number of cases, the doctor may find it difficult to find out the cause of a disease based solely on the signs and symptoms reported by the patient. In such cases, medical tests such as blood tests, x-rays, or a biopsy may be required.

How signs and symptoms are caused by cancer?

Cancer belongs to a group of ailments which may potentially cause most types of signs and symptoms. These signs and symptoms will depend on the site where the cancer has developed, its size, and how severely it affects neighboring tissues and organs. In case the cancer has spread (metastasized), the patient may experience symptoms in several parts of the body.

As it grows, the cancer can start exerting pressure on neighboring organs, blood vessels and nerves. Some cancer-related signs and symptoms are caused by this pressure. In cases where the cancer is present in critical areas, for instance, in specific areas inside the brain, even a small sized tumor can induce early symptoms.

However, in some cases, cancer occurs in places where it does not cause any symptoms till the time it has significantly grown in size. For instance, pancreatic cancer normally does not grow significantly large to allow doctors to feel it from the outside. Specific types of pancreatic cancers do not show any symptoms till the time they start growing around neighboring nerves (this leads to backache). Others can be found growing around the bile duct, which obstructs the bile’s flow. This leads to yellowing of the skin and eyes, known as jaundice. By the time these signs and symptoms develop as a result of pancreatic cancer, the disease is generally in its advanced stage. It implies that the disease has grown and spread to other parts of the body from its site of origin, i.e. the pancreas.

Symptoms such as weight loss, fever, or extreme tiredness (fatigue) can also be caused by cancer. One probable reason may be that cancer cells are using up a significant percentage of the body’s energy supply. Or the cancer may be releasing specific substances that transform the way the human body generates energy from food. It may also be that the cancer is causing the immune system to respond in such a way that leads to these symptoms.

In certain cases, specific substances may be released in the bloodstream by cancer cells, which can produce symptoms that are normally not associated with cancer. For instance, certain types of pancreatic cancers can release substance that can lead to blood clots in veins found in the legs. The nerves and muscles are affected as a result, which can produce symptoms such as weakness and dizziness in the patient.

The usefulness of signs of cancer

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Safety in the Workplace