Survival outcomes for cancer are poorer than other diseases because symptoms often go unreported in the beginning. This buys cancer precious time to advance, reducing the effectiveness of treatments. This is particularly apparent with lung cancer, which presents a slew of vague symptoms which are often misattributed to less serious ailments.
According to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, there are a “multitude of bodily sensations that are often non-specific, not easily understood, and many times initially not recognised as indicative of lung cancer by the affected person”.
This often leads to late diagnosis, warned the researchers.
To remedy this problem, they sought to establish whether certain bodily sensations are more common in cancer patients prior to diagnosis than others.
Although it is hard to attribute bodily sensations to the cancer itself, by identifying patterns among cancer patients, it strengthens the case that a given bodily sensation is a result of the cancer.
According to Cancer Research UK, general signs include weight loss, tiredness (fatigue) or unexplained pain.
How to respond
The NHS says: “Although it’s unlikely to be cancer, it’s important to speak to a GP so they can investigate.”
As the health body notes, finding cancer early means it’s easier to treat.
“If your GP suspects cancer, they’ll refer you to a specialist – usually within two weeks.”
Are you at risk?
Anyone can develop cancer but there are certain factors that put you at a greater risk.
Having one or more risk factors does not mean you will get cancer. Also, having no risk factors does not mean you will not develop cancer.
“For most people, increasing age is the biggest risk factor for developing cancer,” says Macmillan Cancer Support.
The single biggest modifiable risk factor for cancer is smoking – in the UK, more than one in four cancer deaths (over 25 percent) are caused by smoking, warns the charity.
“Breathing in other people’s smoke (passive smoking) also increases your risk of developing cancer,” the health body warns.
What’s more, being overweight increases the risk of many types of cancer, including cancers of the bowel, kidney, womb and gullet (oesophagus), it says.
A body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9 means you’re overweight.
BMI is a measure of whether you’re a healthy weight for your height. It is the most widely used method to check if you’re a healthy weight.