The American Cancer Society reported that the combined five-year relative survival rate for all cancers has increased since the 1960s, from 39 percent to 70 percent among whites and from 27 percent to 64 percent among blacks. Although advancements in screening and treatments helped improve these numbers, it is important to know that a significant contributor to receiving a good prognosis — perhaps above all — is early detection.
The question is: How long can you have cancer without realizing it? This article discusses which cancers have a higher chance of going undetected, as well as which steps you can take to catch potential cancers early.
Top Cancers That Go Unnoticed
Some malignant (cancerous) disorders are easier to detect than others. Dermatologists can, for example, diagnose certain skin cancers through visual inspections, although a biopsy is always necessary to confirm the diagnosis. Other cancers, however, can develop, grow, and multiply for over a decade without the patient knowing. Some of these cancers include:
- Testicular cancer. When cancer arises in one or both testicles, the male patient can go a long time without experiencing telltale signs or symptoms. Regular testicular self-exams can help find a suspicious lump within the scrotum, although not always.
- Pancreatic cancer. The signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer can be subtle and, in most cases, are not noticeable until the disease is in its advanced stages.
- Cervical cancer. In most cases, symptoms of cervical cancer do not appear until the disease is in its later stages. Undergoing regular Pap tests can help detect precancerous cells.
- Breast cancer. Similar to testicular cancer, regular breast self-exams help detect lumps or other unusual changes in the breast that may signal cancer. Regular mammograms are also important in detecting malignant tumors when they are still small.
- Colon cancer. This slow-growing malignant disorder may linger for a long period of time before any obvious symptoms appear. Undergoing a colonoscopy is the best way to find precancerous or cancerous colon polyps.
- Lung cancer. Lung cancer presents itself through frequent coughing and hoarseness. An oncologist can diagnose lung cancer with a complete physical exam and imaging tests. A microscopic exam of sputum may also be necessary if you have phlegm.
- Ovarian cancer. This serious disease may not manifest itself at first, but when it does, the symptoms are sudden and persistent. However, unlike cervical cancer, routine Pap smears cannot detect cancer in the ovaries. A complete blood count, cancer antigen test, and germ cell tumor tests are necessary to diagnose this malignancy.
- Prostate cancer. Early on, prostate cancer usually has no symptoms. A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test can help detect markers in the blood associated with prostate cancer.
Signs vs. Symptoms of Cancer
“Signs of cancer” and “symptoms of cancer” can be two different things:
- A cancer sign is something that someone else can observe right away, such as difficulty breathing or wheezing, or a change in skin color.
- A cancer symptom is something you feel, such as pain and malaise, that is not obvious to others.
The nature of a cancer sign or symptom differs significantly and depends on the location of the cancer. Kidney cancer, for example, can cause blood in the urine, while oral cancer often triggers a lip or mouth sore that does not heal.
When Do Signs and Symptoms First Appear?
In most cases, cancer signs and symptoms first appear when the malignant tumor or mass has grown substantial enough that it starts pushing against neighboring tissue, organs, nerves, and blood vessels. As a result, the cancer patient may experience pain or discomfort, as well as a change in how the affected and/or nearby organs function. For instance, a brain tumor pressing against the optic nerve is likely to cause pain and vision problems.
Some cancers, such as pancreatic and liver cancers, are aggressive or fast-moving. Cancer that affects the prostate, however, is usually slow-moving.
When to See a Doctor for Cancer
Screening for certain cancers should be an integral part of your preventive healthcare routine. These include malignancies of the:
- Colon and rectum
Your age, sex, medical history, and family history will help determine when cancer screenings should begin and how often you should have them. Therefore, before you visit the doctor for your first cancer screening consultation, ensure to prepare the following information:
- Your personal medical history, which includes your underlying health conditions and any symptoms or health issues you have experienced.
- Complete list of medications and supplements you take.
- Your blood relatives’ medical history, especially if they have or had cancer. Read Genetic Disorders That Increase Cancer Risks (Part 1) and (Part 2) for more information.
Importance of Catching Cancer Early
The survival rates are usually high for some cancers that are screened on a regular basis since they are often diagnosed early on and before symptoms arise.
For example, the relative five-year survival rate for localized breast or prostate cancer is almost 100 percent. Furthermore, when detected early, malignant melanoma has a 99 percent five-year survival rate.
However, it is important to understand that catching some cancers early is more complex than it seems. There are no regular screening guidelines for many cancers — whether common or rare — and symptoms may not appear until the disease is in its advanced stages.
To protect yourself from these silent killers:
- Ensure to schedule annual physical exams.
- Report any changes in your body or on your skin to your doctor, even if they seem minor.
- Talk with your general practitioner about cancer screening if you have a family history of cancer or hereditary disorders that increase cancer risks.
The Bottom Line
If you are curious about how long you can live with cancer without knowing, there is no straight answer. Some malignant diseases can be present for several months or years before presenting obvious signs and symptoms.
To increase your chances of detecting potential cancers early, follow your recommended cancer screening schedule with utmost consistency, and always consult your doctor for persistent and recurrent signs or symptoms. The earlier a doctor diagnoses cancer and begins treatment, the better your odds of getting a favorable outcome.
New Hope Unlimited is a leading provider of alternative treatments that aim to restore the body’s cancer-free condition. To book a consultation and learn more about your options, contact us by calling 480-666-1403 today.