Early Stage Cancer: 7 Types That Are Almost Impossible to Detect

As time has gone on and the medical field has become more and more experienced, so has cancer research evolved as well. There have been many improvements made, and nowadays you can catch cancer in its early stages much more frequently than it was done even a decade ago. Despite this, there are still a lot of early stage cancers that are very hard to detect.

This can happen not only due to the fact that they are in places that are hard to see on normal screenings, but also because they end up giving the patient symptoms or showing signs only when the disease has evolved past its initial stages. When tumors have reached an advanced stage in most of these hard to detect cancers, they can not only be extremely hard to remove, but they can end up spreading around to neighboring organs as well, making tackling them even more difficult.

Here we have compiled a list of the hardest to diagnose cancers, the reasons for which they are hard to catch at an early stage, and how they can be screened. Keep in mind that research is continuous, and the field is changing constantly. So while our list is based on what specialists have said, things can change from year to year.

Also, do not panic! It often happens that when we read articles about symptoms, we end up thinking that we may be suffering from the same diseases as the ones we have read about. However, unless you know yourself to have a history of cancer in your immediate family or you have been ignoring important signs that something is wrong with you, you shouldn’t let your mind stray away like so.

Even in the case that you have some symptoms, or you think you may need a screening, you should schedule a visit with a doctor and talk to them about it before you jump to any conclusions on your own. Let us know if any of the cancers on our list surprised you or if you added something new to your general knowledge!

cancer early stage
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Brain cancer

You may think that it would be easy to detect brain cancer or spinal cord tumors, but unfortunately, they do not manifest very often in the early stages. The symptoms and signs that a person has any of these will start to appear in late stages, and they can also be mistaken for some other diseases as well.

If the tumor appears in the motor cortex (which is the part of the brain that is responsible for controlling your movements), the symptoms may be that the person ends up having a very noticeable issue such as weakness in one limb, more often than not being an arm or leg.

However, specialists say that these types of tumors end up appearing in parts of the brain that are next to these, which would not cause obvious symptoms, but rather clumsiness in easy tasks or tasks that require very fine motor skills, or very subtle speech difficulties that would be hard to pinpoint.

Moreover, it can happen that one of the only early stage symptoms ends up being very subtle changes in the patient’s personality, that can only be noticed by close family members or significant others. This, coupled with the fact that more often than not, the most common symptom ends up being a headache, is a recipe for disaster.

Headaches end up being ignored by most patients and even primary care specialists as they are so common that people do not believe them to be the cause of anything more serious until they become more debilitating. Unfortunately, to this day, there are no screenings available for brain cancer or any spinal cord tumors, and patients end up being recommended screenings when the symptoms are so obvious they are hard to ignore.

The only way to see if a brain tumor is through an imaging study of the brain, either through an MRI or CT scan, and getting a prognosis at an early stage is very poor. To make matters worse, there is no cure for brain cancer that is currently available, and most of the time, the medical team for these patients tries their best to preserve their neurological functions, keep their condition from deteriorating any further, and manage the growth of the tumor.

Because of how risky these brain tumors are, getting them surgically removed is both extremely risky and very costly, so unless the tumor is caught very early on, this method is not as common as many may think.


Sarcoma is actually a tumor that, in the early stages, does not have any symptoms. They can be made out of any type of body tissue, from fat and muscle to bone, cartilage, or even deep skin tissues. Despite its wide variety, it’s a very rare type of cancer to have as an adult, with only around 1 percent of all adult patients with cancer having sarcoma.

This, however, makes it very common in children, where sarcoma accounts for 15 to 20 percent of all cancers found in children. Because they just grow out as anomalies, without being connected to the surface where they would be easier to spot, sarcoma tumors end up being very large when they start causing symptoms in patients.

The only way to diagnose sarcoma tumors, even in the event that they are caught at an early stage, is through biopsy. Any other types of less invasive ways of diagnosis, including blood markers, are inefficient as the tumor doesn’t produce them. Unless the patient has a high risk of developing such cancer, it’s not a screening done very frequently.

Unfortunately, it is best to try to catch this type of tumor at as early a stage as possible, as the only way to cure it is through surgery: removing the tumor and hoping the cancerous cells haven’t spread further. Any other types of treatment have proven not to be as effective.

cancer symptoms, blood clot, early stage
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Non-small cell lung cancer

Compared with other types of cancer, three-quarters of lung cancers are only diagnosed after they have already spread in the body!

And the worst part of it is that patients end up being diagnosed only when they are already exhibiting symptoms, which generally look like simple coughs, pneumonia, or even just shortness of breath, and they are not early stage ones.

These symptoms, as non-threatening as they seem to be, end up being a sign that cancer has made its way into your bloodstream or lymph system. The most common type of lung cancer is the non-small cell one, also known as NSCL for short.

Despite being the most common form of lung cancer, NSCL is very difficult to detect in the early stages as it often does not cause patients to have any symptoms and it does not appear on normal chest X-rays. Other types of screening can be used to detect it, such as CT scans or positron emission tomography (PET), but the rest of the detection procedures can actually be quite invasive.

In later stages, doctors end up taking cancer cells from the fluid that builds up around the lungs, from lung secretions, or from biopsy, in order to be able to diagnose the patient. Unfortunately, by this time in the late stage, despite getting the confirmation, the chances of survival are very low.

This is why it is crucial to be able to spot any signs of NSCL in its early stages. So, anyone who has a long history of smoking or who works in an occupation that exposes them to fine particles in the air should see a specialist and discuss the possibility of a CT screening.

Or even just talk to them about the risk they have exposed themselves to. It’s better to ask a question than to suffer later!

Liver cancer

Like many of the cancers on our list, liver cancer is such a silent killer because it does not cause the patient to exhibit any symptoms until late stages. This makes it extremely hard to detect, even if you are getting a physical exam, despite the cancer being in an early stage!

If the tumor is really small (like it is in the initial phases), it will be very hard to detect due to the fact that most of the liver is covered by the right part of the ribcage.

This makes it so that by the time the liver has become big enough that it causes concern to your doctor, the tumor is likely to have spread all through the organ, and at this point, it would be impossible to remove it through surgery.

The reason why getting surgery when the tumor is too big is that if it were too big and spread out, there would be almost no liver left after the surgery. With how long the list of liver transplants is, this wouldn’t be a viable option either.

Unfortunately, there is no widely used or recommended screening for liver cancer, so the chances of catching the disease in its early stage are quite slim if you are not thought to be at risk of developing it.

Generally, people with a history of the disease or those who have already been diagnosed with HPV (human papillomavirus) end up being recommended for screening.

Likewise, if you know anyone with a history of abusing alcohol, or even if they happen to be a heavy drinker, then it would be a good idea to suggest they talk to their doctor about getting a liver screening. Patients who have a history of alcoholism are very likely to develop liver cancer after getting any other liver disease, or even long-standing cirrhosis.

early stage
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Kidney cancer

With how important and sensitive the kidneys are, you would think that anything wrong with them would be detected earlier. However, when we talk about kidney cancer, the early stages are pretty hard to pinpoint.

Not only is the situation similar to when you have kidney stones (until you feel horrible due to the pain, it’s hard to tell you have one), but the symptoms end up appearing when the tumor is already pretty big. Not to mention, they are common with other types of diseases.

Some of the most commonly reported symptoms of kidney cancer often include chronic fatigue, lower back pain, and unexplained weight loss. These are notorious for being ignored by patients until they become debilitating. Another common symptom is blood in the urine.

Chris Fikry, MD, explained that kidney cancer is so hard to pinpoint both due to the fact that the kidneys are deep inside the body and that any early stage tumors are too small to be seen or felt at an annual physical exam, but also because patients who aren’t thought to be at risk of developing kidney cancer are not recommended for screenings.

People who are thought to be at an increased risk of developing this type of cancer generally have other inherited conditions that are known to cause cancer growth and generally trigger tumor appearances.

Some of those conditions are Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome, Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, and hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma.

In patients that have these conditions, doctors generally recommend getting regular imaging tests such as tomography or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look for any growing tumors on the kidneys.

However, the chance of being recommended for such expensive procedures without a preexisting condition is quite slim. This is exactly why you shouldn’t ignore any persisting pains and go see a doctor!

Early Stage Ovarian Cancer

With ovarian cancer being the fifth deadliest cancer in women, you wouldn’t think that it only amounts to about 3 percent of all the cancers that women have. According to specialists, this type of cancer accounts for more deaths among women when compared with other female reproductive system cancers.

Of course, if the disease is discovered at an early stage, the better, as the outcome could be completely different if the disease is in its incipient stage. However, the numbers don’t lie: only about 20 percent of all cases of ovarian cancer are discovered in their early stages!

The vice president of hematology and oncology at inVentiv Health, Joe O’Connell, MD, says this is due to the fact that with how large the abdominal cavity is when you add the fact that there are no symptoms of early stage ovarian cancer, it makes it very hard for it to be diagnosed.

When women begin to exhibit symptoms, the cancer has usually advanced to stage three or four!

Cancer.org estimates that every year more than 20,000 women find out that they have ovarian cancer, and of all those women, almost 14,000 will unfortunately not make it out alive, despite battling the disease. This means that 64 percent of all women who get this form of cancer die due to it and the fact that it’s really hard to detect.

Pancreatic Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, pancreatic cancer is the leading cause of death in 7% of all cancer cases. Despite all the doctors knowing this, there seems to be a lack of cancer screenings out there, despite the need for quite a lot of them.

The good news is that there are newly emerging technologies, like molecular blood testing and other innovative approaches, that are aimed at early detection of these tumors that are notorious for going unscreened.

Why is pancreatic cancer such a silent killer? That’s because it is completely internal and, at first, painless, so without getting a specific screening for it, you wouldn’t know you had it until it became more dangerous.

Moreover, it has no correlation to anything else that could exhibit other symptoms that would lead a doctor to suspect there is a tumor growing there.

There is, however, one exception, which is the one situation that can quickly catch on. If you happen to have a growing tumor on the bile duct, the symptoms can lead to blockages and jaundice pretty quickly.

This would lead to discovering pancreatic cancer in its early stages, which could lead to possibly getting treatment faster.
If the disease is caught in its early stages, then the fortunate option is to have quite a large operation. And this, despite the fact that surgery is not a small feat, ends up being a relatively minor issue when dealing with cancer.

If it has ended up at a later stage, then the only option is chemotherapy, and, unfortunately, specialists say that this is just a temporary solution.

For more information about cancer symptoms that you may be missing, read along here!

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