Cancer Symptoms and Detection

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If you are young and have been diagnosed with one of the cancers typical of HBOC syndrome, ask whether your situation warrants a genetic test to find out if you carry a gene mutation.  Learning that your cancer is hereditary may change treatment or follow-up recommendations.  In addition, if you test positive for a mutation, risk for a second cancer may be increased so you may want to look at preventative options.

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Breast Cancer

 Signs and Symptoms

  • a lump in the breast that is present all the time and does not get smaller or go away with the menstrual cycle.  Characteristics may include:
    • The lump is present all the time and does not get smaller or go away with  the menstrual cycle.
    • The lump may feel like it is attached to the skin or chest wall and cannot  be moved.
    • The lump may feel hard, irregular in shape and very different from the rest  of the breast tissue.
    • The lump may be tender, but it is usually not painful.  Pain is more often a symptom of a non-cancerous (benign) condition, but  should still be checked by a doctor.
  • a lump in the armpit (axilla)
  • changes in breast shape or size
  • skin changes such as dimpling or puckering, redness, swelling and/or increased warmth (signs that look like an infection)  may be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer as can itching of the breast or nipple and other itchiness not relieved by ointments, creams or other  medications.
  • nipple changes such as pointed inwards, discharge or ulcers.
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If you suspect breast cancer ask your doctor to send you for screening which may include one or more of the following:

  • Mammogram
  • Ultrasound
  • MRI
  • Biopsy

Even if no signs or symptoms exist HBOC Syndrome carriers should follow the recommendations

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Ovarian Cancer

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms associated with ovarian cancer are often vague, non-specific and can also be caused by other health  conditions. It is important to have any unusual symptoms checked by a  doctor.  Common symptoms include:

  • Bloating - increased abdominal size/persistent bloating
  • Eating - difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Pain - in pelvic or abdominal areas
  • Urinary symptoms – urgency or frequency

Occasionally there can be other symptoms such as changes in bowel habits, extreme fatigue or unexplained weight loss. Just because you have the symptoms does not mean you have ovarian cancer.  However, if your symptoms persist it is important to see your doctor.


Unfortunately, there is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer.  If you have signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer ask your doctor for screening, which will include one or more of the following.

  • complete pelvic exam
  • transvaginal or pelvic ultrasound
  • CA-125 blood test
  • CT Scan
  • PET Scan
  • Biopsy

Note:  These tests are most effective when used in combination.

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Prostate Cancer

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of prostate cancer can also be caused by other health  conditions. It is important to have any unusual symptoms checked by a  doctor.

  • changes in bladder habits:
    • need to urinate often (frequency), especially at night
    • intense need to urinate (urgency)
    • difficulty in starting or stopping the urine flow
    • inability to urinate
    • weak or decreased urine stream
    • interrupted urine stream
    • a sense of incompletely emptying the bladder
    • burning or pain during urination
  • blood in the urine or semen
  • painful ejaculation


Even without symptoms regular screening should begin at around 50 or earlier, depending on your family history.  Tests will include one or more of the following:

  • PSA Test
  • Digital Rectal Exam
  • Biopsy
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Pancreatic Cancer

  • Pain in the upper abdomen or back - is a common symptom of pancreatic cancer and may worsen when lying down or 3 to 4 hours after eating.
  • Jaundice - is a condition marked by the yellowing of the skin and eyes and dark urine. It occurs when an increased level of bilirubin is in the blood. This can occur when a tumor is completely or partially blocking the bile duct, slowing the flow of bile.
  • Loss of appetite – is a symptom of hundreds of diseases and conditions, including pancreatic cancer. It can signal something severe or even be related to something as small as a stomach virus. When symptoms are vague like this, medical tests are necessary to make an accurate diagnosis.
  • Weight loss – unintended weight loss is a common symptom of pancreatic cancer and one that is usually one of the first symptoms experienced along with abdominal pain.
  • Diabetes late in life - pancreatic cancer may impede the pancreas’ ability to produce insulin, resulting in diabetes. It is important to note that most people develop diabetes because of reasons unrelated to pancreatic cancer.
  • Constipation and/or diarrhea – Diarrhea occurs when the nutrients in food are not absorbed properly. When this occurs, stool can become loose, watery, oily and foul-smelling. Constipation is a common problem, particularly in patients taking pain medications. These medications slow the passage of food through the intestines.
  • Nausea and vomiting – is another vague symptom of pancreatic cancer that is common among many other conditions.
  • Changes in Stool Colour – stools become pale and clay in color. This is often due to the bile duct being blocked. Stools can also have an odd, strong smell or float if they have too high fat content.
  • Overall skin itch - is a less common symptom and a vague symptom, but when coupled with another symptom like abdominal pain or jaundice, it can be significant in making a more accurate, timely diagnosis.
  • Indigestion-like pain and bloating


Many tests are commonly used to rule out or diagnose pancreatic cancer.

  • Health history and physical  exam
  • Complete blood count
  • Blood chemistry tests
  • CT scan
  • Ultrasound
  • MRI
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography  (ERCP)
  • Laparoscopy
  • Biopsy
  • PET scan

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