Here are 10 common symptoms that you’d never think could be caused by cancer, but they can be.
However, it’s unlikely that they are, but you should still be mindful if any of these symptoms persist or cannot be explained.
The following 10 symptoms can be caused by a malignancy.
It’s important to note that cancer is not high on the list for any of these symptoms.
They are presented in no particular order by Jonathan Stegall, MD, an integrative oncologist and medical director for The Center for Advanced Medicine, an adult cancer treatment center in Alpharetta, GA.
“While dry eyes can be a symptom of eye cancer, it is much more likely that dry eyes are a result of dry air in the environment, allergies or spending too much time on electronic devices such as mobile phones and computers,” says Dr. Stegall.
Dry eye can also be a long-lasting side effect from LASIK surgery.
“Moreover, eye cancer is rare, comprising just 0.2% of new cancer diagnoses in the United States each year,” says Dr. Stegall.
Symptoms of Eye Cancer
- New-appearing, smudge-like mark in the white of the eye
- Pupil changing shape
- New mole-like growth in the iris (colored part of the eye)
- Bulging in one eye
- Vision impairment, seeing wiggly lines or spots before the eye
- Loss of side vision
Change in Sense of Smell
“Typically, noticing a change in smell is due to a viral infection such as cold or flu,” says Dr. Stegall.
“We also know that the COVID-19 virus can cause changes in smell, as can seasonal allergies.
“However, a rare cause of change in sense of smell is a cancerous tumor in the head or neck.”
A malignancy in the sinuses is an example. Growths in this area are called paranasal tumors (some may be benign).
About 2,000 cases of paranasal cancers are diagnosed annually in the U.S.
Signs of Paranasal Cancer
- Lump under nose
- Ear pain
- Tearing in one eye
- Nasal discharge, may include blood
- Stuffy feeling in nose
- Impaired taste
“An ear that itches is almost certainly due to dryness or a buildup of ear wax,” says Dr. Stegall.
“Infection can cause itchiness, as can eczema or psoriasis. Even food allergies can cause the ears to itch.”
Another harmless cause is seborrheic dermatitis.
“A much less common cause of itchy ear is skin cancer involving the ear, which comprises less than 10% of skin cancer cases.”
Signs to Look for
- New mole over age 40
- Changes in a pre-existing mole
- Crusting or bleeding in a mole
- Quickly growing nodule
- Rough pink/red patch
- Scab-like growth that won’t heal
Perhaps you know that tooth pain can be caused by an imminent heart attack.
That’s pretty frightening for anyone who has risk factors for a heart attack and begins experiencing notable tooth pain.
But most sensations of pain in a tooth are not caused by heart disease.
“A painful tooth is most likely due to a non-cancer cause such as a tooth infection or decay,” says Dr. Stegall.
“However, oral cancer can also cause tooth pain, although this is a rare presentation.
“Typically, oral cancer will result in a mouth sore that doesn’t heal, causing pain or numbness in the tongue or mucosa and not the teeth directly.”
Other Signs of Oral Cancer
- White or red patch on the tongue or elsewhere inside the mouth
- New lump or bump inside the mouth
- Loose teeth
- Ear pain
- Trouble or pain swallowing
Burping is typically regarded as a symptom of embarrassment.
It’s been a feature in sitcoms throughout the decades.
Who’d ever think that belching could be caused by cancer? Well, it can.
Dr. Stegall explains, “This common symptom is typically caused by swallowing excess air, and can occur due to drinking carbonated beverages, chewing gum and eating too fast.
“Rarely, belching can be a sign of cancer in the digestive tract such as the esophagus, stomach or pancreas.
“However, these cancers almost always cause other symptoms as well, not just belching in isolation.”
Signs of GI Tract Cancer
- Feeling of food being stuck below the throat or in the chest
- Switching to a diet of mostly soft foods because getting food down your throat has become difficult
- Very light colored stools
- Stomach pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unexplained fatigue
“A sore elbow is something many of us have experienced at one point or another,” begins Dr. Stegall.
“This typically occurs as a result of trauma to the elbow resulting in a strain, sprain, dislocation or fracture.
“Pain can also result from simple overuse, due to repeating the same motion (inflammation to the tendons in that area, commonly referred to as tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow).
“Tumors in and around the elbow are rare, and when they occur, they are almost always benign.
“However, cancerous tumors such as Ewing sarcoma, osteosarcoma and chondrosarcoma can occur in the elbow, but this is rare.
“Cancer from other locations such as the lung or breast can spread (metastasize) to the elbow, but this is not common either.”
About 100 cases of osteosarcoma in people over 60 are diagnosed yearly in the U.S.
In the remaining approximately 900 yearly cases, most patients are under 30.
There are about 800 new cases of chondrosarcoma every year in the U.S.
As for Ewing sarcoma, this is ridiculously rare, with only 200 new cases (all ages) in the U.S. yearly. And out of those, most affect adolescents and young adults.
Signs of These Cancers
- New, hard lump; may or may not be painful
- Redness or warmth of the lump
- Pain may be excruciating
- Pain may occur overnight
- Pain may come and go
- Impaired use of the affected area
Finger or Toe Pain
“Pain in the fingers and toes can be the result of overuse, including arthritis and tendonitis, as well as benign causes such as cysts and infections,” says Dr. Stegall.
“However, finger and toe pain can rarely be caused by cancer metastasis.
“Although cancer spread to bone is a fairly common occurrence, studies show that fingers and toes are a very rare site of spread.
“One study found that only 0.007% to 0.3% of bone metastases are located in the hand or foot.”
Symptoms of Metastatic Cancer
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unexplained fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Hip pain
- Back pain
“The sensation of a cramping muscle is most commonly due to strain from movement or exercise,” says Dr. Stegall.
“However, a rare cause of muscle cramps is a cancerous tumor compressing a nerve in or around the cramp.”
A blood clot in a deep leg vein (deep vein thrombosis) is a far more common cause of a calf cramp than is a tumor.
A muscle cramp from a malignancy will not go away, and over time, more symptoms will develop such as weakness in the limb.
“Many things can cause a sore throat, such as allergies, acid reflux, viruses and bacterial infections,” notes Dr. Stegall.
“Though unlikely, throat cancer can cause a store throat. Throat cancer is also a rare cancer, comprising less than 0.1% of all cancers diagnosed.”
The VAST majority of throat cancer patients are smokers or heavy drinkers.
Throat Cancer Symptoms
- Change in voice, hoarse voice
- Painful swallowing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Persistent cough
- Ear pain
- Lump in throat
Dr. Stegall says, “This most commonly occurs due to a urinary tract infection or sexually transmitted disease.
“However, painful urination (known as dysuria) can less commonly be due to bladder cancer.
“It is worth noting that the most common symptom of bladder cancer is blood in the urine.”
Prostate cancer, too, can cause painful urination.
Signs of Bladder and Prostate Cancer
- Feeling of incomplete voiding
- Difficulty with urine stream
- Frequent need to urinate
- Inability to pass urine
- Cramping or pain in the bladder area
- Back pain
Guidelines for Cancer Prevention
1 Don’t smoke or drink.
2 Avoid illegal drugs.
3 Avoid beverages from plastic bottles/containers unless declared BPA-free.
4 Eat lots of berries and cruciferous vegetables.
5 Avoid processed and grain-fed meats; limit sugary foods.
6 Do aerobic and resistance exercise.
7 Wear sunblock; avoid sunbathing and tanning salons.
8 Avoid obesity; lose weight if you’re obese.
9 Get regular Pap smears
10 Get annual checkups from your primary care physician, dermatologist, OBGYN and urologist.
11 Get regular colonoscopies.
12 In addition, to minimize delayed cancer diagnosis, get regular mammograms.
Jonathan Stegall, MD, provides a long-awaited remedy for our cancer problem. Having a successful integrative oncology practice in Atlanta, GA, he’s seen firsthand what works and what doesn’t with cancer treatment. Dr. Stegall is the creator of the Cancer Secrets Podcast and author of “Cancer Secrets,” available on Amazon.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.