Four symptoms not to ignore if you’ve had cancer
January 23, 2018 | by Denise Heady
More and more people are surviving cancer, thanks to advanced cancer treatments and screening tools. Today there are nearly 15.5 million cancer survivors in the United States.
But in up to 20 percent of cancer patients, the disease ultimately spreads to their brain. Each year, nearly 170,000 new cases of brain metastasis are diagnosed in the United States, sometimes years after an initial cancer diagnosis. The cancers most likely to spread to the brain are melanoma and cancers of the lung, breast and colon.
Neurosurgeon and scientist Rahul Jandial, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Division of Neurosurgery at City of Hope, says that recognizing symptoms and seeking medical attention as early as possible is vital.
The warning signs are important not to ignore because it gives us the opportunity to catch potential complications. Early detection gives us a better chance to help patients recover the brain or nerve function that was affected by the cancer,” Jandial said.
Here, Jandial highlights four common symptoms of brain metastasis that are often ignored but that warrant immediate medical attention when occurring in cancer survivors.
1. Progressive headaches
“Common headaches can arise for lots of reasons that aren’t necessarily dangerous," said Jandial. “You can’t overreact and respond to every headache with a brain scan. So the question becomes how do you identify which headaches to take very seriously if you are a cancer patient."
The key to recognizing a headache that can be potentially dangerous is knowing when a headache is out of character and falls into the category of a progressive headache.
"Progressive headaches are not a typical headache or migraine that we are accustomed to. These types of headaches get worse, continue for days and won’t go away. If your headache gets progressively worse and doesn’t start to fade even with time, rest and medicine, call your doctor’s office,” said Jandial.
This includes any type of seizure. Any twitching of the lip, twitching of the hand, falling to the floor, difficulty speaking or anything even perceived as a seizure requires medical attention in a cancer survivor, Jandial said.
“If you have a history of cancer and are doing well, do not ignore a seizure – even if it’s partial and only involves one part of the body and you remain awake and aware throughout.”
4. Balance problems
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