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Frequently Googled Questions: Cancer Symptoms Part 1

Google Cancer Symptoms 1

Of all the questions commonly Googled about cancer, questions about its signs and symptoms are among the most common. This topic comes to you in two parts. Today's post will answer questions about weight, hair loss, fever, fatigue, cholesterol, blood pressure, and more. Part two is about a topics a little more complicated and interesting than this. You can read it here.

Can cancer cause weight gain?

Some cancer patients may gain weight, but most actually lose it. In fact, losing more than 10 lbs for no apparent reason is considered to be an early symptom of several cancers, including pancreatic, stomach, esophagus, and lung cancers.

Having said that, there are several reasons someone with cancer might gain weight:

  • Some medications commonly used to treat cancer or its side effects can directly cause weight gain. One example of this is corticosteriods like hydrocortisone and prednisone. These drugs are commonly used to treat some cancers as well as nausea, vomiting, allergic reactions, and headaches that stem from certain types of brain tumors.
  • Some people may eat more during treatment due to nausea, anxiety, or food cravings. The latter is known to be a side effect of certain kinds of chemotherapy.
  • Cancer treatment can make patients feel fatigued (which we'll talk about again in a little bit). Those people may not do as much physical activity as they otherwise would have, resulting in weight gain.
  • Certain drugs can lower the rate at which calories are burned and thus cause weight gain.
  • Other drugs can cause the body to retain water, which would increase a patient's weight.

Small increases in weight during treatment for cancer is generally not something to worry about. However, if a patient were to gain a great deal of weight there might be cause for concern--as it's bad for both a patient's health and their tolerance for treatment.

 

Can cancer cause hair loss?

Generally speaking, cancer itself doesn't usually cause hair loss although some cancer treatments do. Radiation and chemotherapy can both cause patients to lose their hair.

Interestingly, some skin cancers can actually cause excessive hair growth.

 

Can cancer cause fever?

Yes. This happens most commonly after cancer has metastasized, but it's considered be an occasionally occurring early sign of some cancers like bone cancer, liver cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, and kidney cancer. Most of the more common cancers--for instance, breast, lung, and bowel--don't usually cause fever unless the cancer has either spread to the liver or blocked some passage in the body.

 

Will cancer make you tired?

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of cancer. It's also related to cancer treatments.

This fatigue is usually called cancer-related fatigue and is considered different from normal fatigue in that it's generally worse, lasts longer (sometimes on the order of months to years), and rest or sleep won't make it go away. Some cancer patients experience fatigue so profound they feel it's difficult to even think. Many list this as the worst side effect of cancer and cancer treatment.

Cancer itself can cause this kind of tiredness as it grows and spreads. However, in the case of leukemia, it can happen very early in the course of the disease--before the cancer spreads at all.

Stomach and colon cancers can sometimes cause bleeding which a patient may be unaware of without the help of a doctor. This can also cause fatigue.

When it comes to cancer treatments making patients tired, both radiation and chemotherapy do so. During chemotherapy, this fatigue is usually worst during the first few days of treatment and lessens before the next cycle of drugs begins. In the case of radiation, fatigue generally worsens as the treatment goes on for longer periods of time.

Sometimes cancer-related fatigue is confused with depression, which also affects many cancer patients.

 

What cancer does to the body?

Given that there are over 200 kinds of cancer and each individual patient's case acts somewhat differently based on factors like health, medical history, and genetics, it would border on impossible to list everything cancer does to the body. Some of the most common physical changes associated with cancer and its treatment are fever, pain, fatigue, a thickening or lump beneath the skin, loss of a body part, hair loss, surgical scars, skin changes like rashes and burns, swelling of the extremities, weight loss, general weakness, and decreased physical skills (such as athletic abilities, balance, and agility).

Usually when these symptoms occur in someone, they are due to something besides cancer. VLCM Foundation loves, trusts, and supports doctors in every way, but none of us are doctors. The information we post here is for the purpose of learning, not for the purpose of individual diagnosis. If a person has any of these symptoms, and they persist for a period of longer than a few weeks, they should see a doctor.

 

Can cancer symptoms come and go?

Cancer symptoms usually persist, but the research literature shows exceptions to this rule. For instance, some pancreatic cancer patients report symptoms that come and go. These symptoms might include abdominal pain, back pain, unexplained weight loss, and indigestion.

 

Can cancer cause high cholesterol?

For this question and the next, we're getting into relatively untrodden ground when it comes to scientific research. We can't find any studies suggesting that cancer causes high cholesterol. There are, on the other hand, some mixed results on whether high cholesterol makes cancer more likely to occur or exacerbates existing cancers. The jury is probably still out on this one.

Some chemotherapy drugs are, however, known to increase cholesterol levels.

 

Can cancer cause high blood pressure?

Some kinds of cancer, like adrenal cancer, appear to be able to increase blood pressure. One 2017 study suggests that hypertension (also known as high blood pressure) and prostate cancer may be caused by a common mechanism. The study recommends more research be done to evaluate whether high blood pressure makes prostate cancer more likely to occur.

As with high cholesterol, some chemotherapy drugs are known to cause high blood pressure.

 

What cancer looks like?

Generally speaking, under a microscope many kinds of cancer look like bunches of very disorganized cells grouped together sort of randomly. The Mayo Clinic has some microscopy photos here, showing the difference between normal cells and cancer cells up very close. These are not graphic in any way.

With bare eyes, different kinds of cancer look differently. The American Cancer Society has some photos of skin cancer here. Some may consider them to be very slightly graphic.

If you're eating lunch, you may want to skip this paragraph. Rather infamously, some kinds of tumors called teratomas are capable of developing hair, muscle, and bone. Teratomas are pretty rare and pretty gross. This case study published in a scientific journal includes a photo of one. Included is a description that reads, "The mass was filled with a yellowish viscous material, hair, and several tooth fragments." Apologies for the nightmares.

 


Sources

Adrenal Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Health-Conditions/Adrenal-Cancer.aspx 

Cancer and Your Body. (2017, July 21). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/young-adults/cancer-and-your-body 

Coping with cancer. (2017, June 21). Retrieved from https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/coping/physically/fever/causes/cancer 

Evans, J., Chapple, A., Salisbury, H., Corrie, P., & Ziebland, S. (2014). “It can't be very important because it comes and goes”—patients' accounts of intermittent symptoms preceding a pancreatic cancer diagnosis: A qualitative study. BMJ. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-004215

Hair loss. (2018, May 10). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hair-loss/symptoms-causes/syc-20372926 

Hill-Kayser, C. (2010, January 17). High Cholesterol After Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.oncolink.org/frequently-asked-questions/cancer-resources/brown-bag-chat/high-cholesterol-after-treatment 

Key signs and symptoms of cancer. (2018, July 04). Retrieved from https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-symptoms 

Navin, S., & Ioffe, V. (2017). The association between hypertension and prostate cancer. Reviews in Urology,19(2), 113-118. doi:10.3909/riu0758

Pancreatic cancer signs and symptoms. (2018, June). Retrieved from https://www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk/information-and-support/facts-about-pancreatic-cancer/signs-and-symptoms/ 

Signs and Symptoms of Cancer | Do I Have Cancer? (2014, August 11). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-basics/signs-and-symptoms-of-cancer.html 

Silva, T. K., Ribeiro, G. J., Scortegagna, F. A., Zanetti, G., & Marchiori, E. (2015). Teratoma: A set of teeth in the pelvis. Radiologia Brasileira,48(4), 263-264. doi:10.1590/0100-3984.2015.0034

Skin Cancer Pictures & Photos | Pictures of Skin Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/skin-cancer/galleries/skin-cancer-image-gallery.html 

Symptoms. (2018, March 29). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/diagnosis-staging/symptoms 

Weight gain - Canadian Cancer Society. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/diagnosis-and-treatment/managing-side-effects/weight-gain/?region=on 

What Is Cancer-Related Fatigue. (2016, March 24). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/fatigue/what-is-cancer-related-fatigue.html 

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