Powerful Warning Signs of Cancer — Red Flags to Look For

Joseph R. Anticaglia MD
Medical Advisory Board

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2018 there will be close to 610,000 deaths in the United States due to cancer and approximately 1,735,000 new cases of cancer. The early diagnosis of cancer increases dramatically the cure rates and the five year survival rates of this disease.

There are more than 100 types of cancers and many have similar signs and symptoms. What follows are some warning signs that can be associated with cancer.

Warning Signs — Red Flags

Coughing or Hoarseness:

  • Nagging cough or one that lasts three weeks or more
  • Persistent hoarseness
  • Coughing up blood

Changes in Bowel or Bladder habits:

  • Blood present in urine or stools
  • Changes in your bowel habits such as diarrhea or constipation
  • Increase urinary frequency or pain on urination

Lump in Any Part of the Body:

  • Lump in breast or scrotum when doing self-examination
  • Lumps found in other parts of the body—neck, groin or armpits

Warts or Moles:

  • Look for changes in the appearance of a wart or mole: Use the ABCD approach:
    • Asymmetry: One half of mole doesn’t match the other
    • Border: Border irregularity; Are the borders sharp or ragged?
    • Color: Colors are not uniform. What are the colors seen in the mole?
    • Diameter: Is the mole bigger than a pencil eraser (6 mm)?

Sores That Won’t Heal:

  • If you have experienced a minor cut, you’ve noticed that the skin repairs itself in a week or so. Sores on the skin or in the mouth are of concern when they:
    • Don’t heal
    • Get bigger
    • Bleed
    • Become painful

Other sores seem to go away, only to reappear. In either case, they deserve the attention of your family doctor. Also, white spots on the inside of your mouth that don’t go away should be examined by your doctor.

Difficulty Swallowing — Indigestion:

  • Difficulty swallowing because of pain or pressure in the throat or chest.
  • Feeling nauseated or bloated with a small amount of food or with no food.

More Red Flags:

  • Unusual bleeding or discharge, significant weight loss without trying should be brought to the attention of your physician. Feeling fatigued all the time in spite of getting enough rest? You don’t have the energy you once had? Very heavy night sweats, loss of appetite or shortness of breath has been associated with specific cancers.

Medical conditions can cause many of the above warning signs. It’s important to be aware of symptoms that make an unusual appearance or don’t go away. They are your red flags to better health. When in doubt, make an appointment to see your doctor.


  1. American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts and Figures; 2018
  2. World Health Organization, 7 Warning Signs of Cancer

This article is intended solely as a learning experience. Please consult your physician for diagnostic and treatment options.