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10 Surprising Symptoms That Turned Out to Be Cancer

A man gets a positive pregnancy test. A woman with a large Adam's apple. Oozing green fluid. These bizarre symptoms all turned out to be signs of cancer.

Pregnancy test on dark gray background. positive result.kapooklook01/Shutterstock

“I got a positive pregnancy test. I’m a man.”

“I was just messing around with some friends one night in college when I mentioned that I had found a weird lump on one of my balls. We were all joking about it, but I was really kind of worried. Then one of my friends told me he’d read on the Internet that if you pee on a pregnancy test, it can detect testicular cancer. One of my buddies said his mom had some in a cabinet and brought me a test and dared me to pee on it. I did… and it turned positive! Apparently pregnancy tests measure levels of human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone produced by pregnant women but can sometimes go up due to testicular cancer. I made an appointment at the student health clinic for the next day. The doc said the pregnancy test was really old and probably just gave me a false positive, but he did think the lump was concerning enough that he sent me to get some real tests done. It turned out I really did have testicular cancer. I had surgery to get it removed, and my ‘boys’ are totally fine now. Did the pregnancy test really find my cancer? Who knows, but at least it got me to go to the doctor.” —Shaun P., 28, Boston, Massachusetts. [Note: Not all types of testicular cancer secrete HCG, so don’t rely only on a pregnancy test. Always get any lump checked by a doctor.]

Phoropter, ophthalmic testing device machineEnrique Ramos/Shutterstock

“I couldn’t see my coworker’s face”

“I’d never had any major health problems, but then one day, out of the blue, I started getting weird symptoms—I could hear my heartbeat loudly in my ear and my vision would get hazy and spotty. At first, I thought it was due to the bad fluorescent lights in my office and too much time staring at my computer screen. But it just wouldn’t go away! I made an appointment with my doctor. He ran a hearing test, which I passed, and then (I’ll never forget this!) told me to ‘quit being a baby and get back to work,’ and that my symptoms were ‘all in my head.’ A few days later, a co-worker was standing in my office doorway and I realized I could only see half of her face. I’d suddenly lost half my vision. She insisted I go to an eye doctor immediately. I made an emergency appointment with an ophthalmologist, and he discovered I had a brain tumor. Fortunately, they were able to treat it. Today I’m not totally healed, but I’m much better. Had I waited even a few days longer, I would have had permanent vision loss or worse. I’m so thankful I listened to my coworker and not that doctor; it could have ended so differently for me.” —Tracy C., 37, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

numbAndrey_Vasiliskov/Shutterstock

“My nipple started leaking green liquid”

“One day at work I looked down at my shirt and saw a green spot on my chest. I was embarrassed, thinking I must have spilled something on myself at lunch. (I’m not the most coordinated person so it wouldn’t have been out of character for me.) But as the day went on, the green stain started to spread. As soon as I got home, I went to take off my shirt to get a closer look and realized it was stuck to my chest! It was my breast that was leaking green fluid. I went to my doctor and was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was shocked, as I had never felt a lump, but I learned that not all breast cancers show up as lumps. My cancer was in my milk duct, something I never could have felt on my own. I’d never heard before that strange nipple discharge can also be a sign of cancer. So while the green goo was gross, I’m grateful for it as it helped me get diagnosed and treated very early, before it could spread.” —Meghan H., 34, Ridgecrest, California. These are the 10 foods that are directly tied to cancer.

Asian woman using a pressurized cartridge inhaler extended pharynx, Bronchodilatorcatinsyrup/Shutterstock

“I had a cough that just wouldn’t quit”

“In 2013, I noticed a slight cough, like I had a small cold, but it just never got better. Over the next three years, I saw many doctors and they told me it was allergies and gave me some medicine. When that didn’t help, they said it was just stress and told me to change my diet. The cough stayed and I added stomach pain to my list of symptoms. Next, it was acid reflux. Stomach ulcers. Kidney stones. A pulled muscle. Then, in 2016, I found I couldn’t catch my breath. I went to the emergency room where I went into complete respiratory failure. At that point, I finally saw an oncologist who gave me the correct diagnosis: Stage 4 Hodgkins lymphoma. I was devastated. I’d known for years that something was seriously wrong, but no one would listen to me and now the cancer had spread throughout my body. Fortunately, I responded well to treatment and I’m now in remission, but I share my story every chance I get!” —Jessica DeCristofaro, 28, author of Talk Cancer to Me: My Guide to Kicking Cancer’s Booty!

Doctor conducting ultrasound examination of woman in clinic, closeupAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

“I had a huge Adam’s apple for a girl”

“When I was in college, my boyfriend used to joke that I had a bigger Adam’s apple than he did. And he wasn’t wrong! For a woman, I had a very pronounced bump. I went to my doctor multiple times, and each time he felt the lump but said some women may just have more enlarged throat glands than others, and it was nothing to worry about. He did check my thyroid levels but everything came back normal. A few months later, during a yearly check-up at my gynecologist, he noticed the lump right away and said there was definitely something not right with my thyroid. I explained I had just had a blood test and everything was normal, but he told me that my thyroid may be functioning just fine (which is why I had no real symptoms), but I could have a tumor on top of it. He immediately sent me to the hospital for a biopsy, and a day later I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 25.

I had my thyroid removed, but since it was caught so late, the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes on the right side of my neck, and I ended up needing them removed too. I was not able to speak for a number of months and went through extreme health ups and downs while prepping for radiation. It was not a fun few years. By all medical standards, I am fine now, but I still suffer effects from it. I am on thyroid replacement for the rest of my life and require checkups every few months. I have low energy, bone loss, skin issues, and thinning hair. Keeping a steady weight is also a struggle. But, I’m able to live a very normal life within my limits and I am extremely blessed for that.” —Jena Luckman, 30, Miami, Florida. Don’t miss these 15 cancer symptoms women are likely to ignore.

Woman hand scratching on leg, Concept with Healthcare And Medicine.MTS_Photo/Shutterstock

“My shins were super itchy”

“Itchy shins were the first sign something was wrong. Nothing helped, and I couldn’t figure out a reason why they were so itchy. Then it turned into a rash of many small blisters. It looked like a heat rash, but I hadn’t been out in the sun. Eventually, the rash turned into small blisters and I went to see a doctor. They did a biopsy and it turned out to be squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common type of skin cancer. Usually, people get it from too much sun exposure, but I wasn’t outdoors all that much. But then I remembered my love of tanning beds when I was younger. The UV light from the tanning beds caused cells in my skin to grow into tumors. The cancer spread to many parts of my legs and foot, and I’ve had to have multiple surgeries and skin grafts, along with needing medication for the rest of my life.” —Beverly Dodds, 55, England, an ambassador for Miiskin, an app that helps people track changes in their skin and moles. Make sure you know these 10 surprising things that can increase your cancer risk.

X-Ray Image Of Human Chest for a medical diagnosis.Chest and lungs Xray photoBENCHAMAT/Shutterstock

“My mom couldn’t stop clearing her throat”

“It started out as just a tickle in the back of her throat that forced her to clear her throat every few minutes. At first, she just brushed it off as a symptom of the hay fever she’d had her whole life, but when it changed into a small constant cough, she decided to see a doctor. Two separate doctors confirmed it was just allergies and sent her on her way with some medicine. Unfortunately, it wasn’t allergies. It was lung cancer. Even though she had a family history of lung cancer—her mother died of the disease—the doctors never thought beyond allergies until it was too late. My mom passed away in 2011. One way I honor her memory is sharing her story so others won’t overlook this subtle sign of cancer.” —Bryan Stoddard, 34, New Jersey, in loving memory of Glenys Noble.

Moles on the women skinPRASAN MAKSAEN/Shutterstock

“I had a scab that wouldn’t heal”

“Like my mom, Glenys, I had my own battle with cancer: One day I noticed a spot on my back. It looked like a scab had just fallen off a healed wound. As I play sports where scratches can occur regularly, I wasn’t surprised or even worried about it. But when it was still there, unhealed, a year later, I decided it was time to get it checked out. My regular doctor told me to just wait and see, but with my mother’s experience being misdiagnosed in the back of my mind, I insisted on seeing a dermatologist. As soon as he saw the spot, he identified it as skin cancer and was shocked that my primary doctor hadn’t immediately referred me to a dermatologist. Thankfully I listened to my instincts, and they were able to remove the spot completely. I’m fine now, but I’m vigilant about getting regular skin check-ups! And I’d definitely never wait a year again to get a skin issue checked out.” —Bryan Stoddard, 34, New Jersey. Don’t miss these 11 other real-life cancer symptoms that were spotted by accident.

Close up of woman torso in close fitting brassiere. Her face expressing tranquility. Girl is showing her armpit. Isolated on backgroundOlena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

“I felt like my breastmilk was letting down… except I wasn’t breastfeeding”

“Breast cancer has cast a shadow over my life from as early as I can remember. I’ve had many female relatives get the disease, including my mother. Still, when I asked multiple times for early screenings, my doctors kept saying no. They did refer me to genetic testing, but when I came back negative for all the known cancer genes, they told me not to worry about it. Fortunately, I’d already made an appointment with a breast cancer specialist. Before my appointment, I began to experience the strangest sensation in my left breast. It felt sort of like a tickling sensation, very similar to the feeling of my milk letting down when I was breastfeeding my daughter. The sensation went from the side of my breast to my nipple. I felt no lumps, but I had a strange gut feeling that I should get it checked out. My regular OBGYN, again, told me there was nothing wrong. The specialist, however, ordered a breast MRI just to be safe. After several scans, they found cancer in such a large part of my left breast—from under my arm all the way to my nipple—that I would need to have my entire breast removed. I opted for a double mastectomy, and when they did the surgery, they found the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I’m now going through chemotherapy. My story is so important because not only did I have cancer, but it had spread and neither I nor my doctors ever felt a lump. If you ever feel anything weird in your breast, get it checked out.” —Sarah Olsher, 35, author of the blog Mighty and Bright.

10 Surprising Symptoms That Turned Out to Be CancerMasAnyanka/Shutterstock

“I had periods from hell”

“I’ve never had light periods, but a couple of years ago, my heavy menstruation became practically hemorrhaging. Plus, my bleeding was on and off all month long, rather than a week each month. I went to see my doctor only to be told it was just heavy periods because I was too fat. He told me to lose weight and my problems would be solved. Nope. I decided to get a second opinion, and this time the doctor took me seriously and ordered some tests. It turns out I had cervical cancer with a tumor the size of a grapefruit. I had surgery to have it removed, followed by chemo, and I’m doing great now. Although I’m still bitter that my doctor’s first instinct was to write it off as my weight.” —Nechamah S., 42, British Columbia, Canada. Make sure you’re not falling for these 50 rampant cancer myths everyone needs to stop believing.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen has been covering health and fitness for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 13 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She teaches fitness classes in her spare time. She lives in Denver with her husband, four children, and three pets.