5 common symptoms you should probably get a doctor to check

Catriona Harvey-Jenner
·5-min read
Photo credit: LaylaBird - Getty Images
Photo credit: LaylaBird - Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

No-one knows your own body like you do, which is why it's so important to pay attention to what's going on in there. As the coronavirus pandemic has gripped the world this year, most of our focus has been on three key symptoms - fever, cough, and loss of taste/smell. And, while it's absolutely necessary to keep a watch for any of those developments to prevent the spread of the virus, it has inadvertently meant that some people are dismissing other symptoms

Cancer in young people is rare – cancer in 13–24-year-olds account for just 1% of all cases that are diagnosed – but just because it’s rare, that doesn't mean you should dismiss new and persistent symptoms as 'normal' - even if you think they're fairly common. Everyone's tired all the time, you might tell yourself. This pain is just caused by my period, you might dismiss.

As part of their #BestToCheck campaign, we asked Teenage Cancer Trust’s Dr Louise Soanes to share five typically common symptoms it's always worth checking out with the doctor. "While not all signs and symptoms will mean you have cancer, you can protect your health by familiarising yourself with them," says Soanes.

Photo credit: Tara Moore - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tara Moore - Getty Images

So, five symptoms it's always best to get checked out - no matter how small the worry - are:

These can appear anywhere on your body.

What's the potential risk?

"Lumps could be a sign of a tumour, or your body responding to cancer in the body."

Why can it so often be dismissed as ‘normal’?

"A lot of the time getting a lump, especially as a young person is normal, as your body is growing, changing and developing, so often it’s nothing to worry about."

When should I get it checked?

"If a lump has been there for a while, and has stayed the same or grown in size, it could be something else. You have nothing to lose by getting it checked out."

When you feel completely exhausted all of the time, and even a good night’s sleep doesn’t help.

What's the potential risk?

"Unexplained tiredness can be a sign of a wide range of cancers common in young people."

Why can it so often be dismissed as ‘normal’?

"Cancer in younger people is rare – and as a teenager or young person your body is changing and developing so much, so it's very normal to be tired in general."

When should I get it checked?

"If you’re struggling to get through your normal day-to-day activities without feeling extreme exhaustion, it could mean something else is wrong and you should talk to a doctor or another healthcare professional. They are there to help, and want to hear your concerns."

This could be a change in the size, shape, colour or texture of a mole, or if it starts bleeding.

What's the potential risk?

"Changes to moles is one of the most common signs of skin cancer."

Why can it so often be dismissed as ‘normal’?

"As you grow and your body develops, its normal for moles to change too."

When should I get it checked?

"When looking at your moles, you can remember it by the ABCs: A is for asymmetrical; if your mole changes and becomes different on one side to the other. B is for border; there should be a defined border to the mole rather than it blurring into the skin. C is for colour; your moles should be the same colour throughout. Its normal to have changes to your moles, and it may well just be something minor, but there’s no harm in visiting your doctor about it."

The kind of pain that’s persistent and extreme and doesn’t go away when you take painkillers.

What's the potential risk?

"You can get a pain anywhere in your body, it’s a way for your body to tell you something is wrong."

Why can it so often be dismissed as ‘normal’?

"There are so many things that can cause pain in your body, but usually there’s a reason for the pain."

When should I get it checked?

"If you have a pain somewhere in your body that is unexplained, extreme and is there for a while, you should seek medical advice."

This could be weight loss or weight gain, when you haven’t changed your diet, how much exercise you’re doing, or any medication you’re on.

What's the potential risk?

"Significant weight change can be a sign to look out for. Weight can of course fluctuate with changes in diet and exercise, but if you’ve noticed a significant change in weight and can’t pinpoint a specific reason you may want to consider getting it checked out."

Why can it so often be dismissed as ‘normal’?

"It is normal for your body to change as a young person, through puberty and growth, so this is likely to be the first assumption."

When should I get it checked?

"If you are gaining or losing a noticeable amount of weight in a short amount of time, and you haven’t changed your diet or lifestyle, that means the weight changes shouldn’t be happening, so it’s important to seek medical advice. Visit your doctor."

These are the five most common signs and symptoms of cancer in young people, but it’s also important to be aware of any other changes happening to your body too, which are significant and unexplained. "These could be headaches or dizziness that won’t go away, unexplained bruising, breathlessness or sweating, or unexplained bleeding such as after sex, between periods or in poo or urine," says Soanes.

Of course, this isn't to scare anyone. Cancer in young people is rare, remember. But generally there's a reason for persistent symptoms, so it's always best to check regardless of any fear of the outcome. "Don’t be worried about wasting anyone’s time," reassures the expert. "The NHS is open and wants to help you."

You can find more information via the Teenage Cancer Trust or the NHS.

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