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Cancer Signs and Symptoms


In many cases cancer patients at the early stage may not show any signs or symptoms. However, there are signs and symptoms showing us that something is wrong in the body. Some signs and symptoms can be diagnosed by health care professionals. In many cases, a person's signs and symptoms do not give enough clues by themselves for health care providers to identify the exact cause so tests must be run.

Medical tests for diagnosing cancer:

  • X-rays
  • Blood analysis
  • Other exams may be needed

Cancer can induce many signs and symptoms. A lot depends on location, size, and the cancer's impact on its surrounding environment in the body.

Symptoms should not be ignored. The best approach is to ask a health care professional about any concerns you have about possible signs and symptoms of cancer.

Some cancers will not produce signs and symptoms. These diseases, such as pancreatic cancer, are sometimes referred to as "silent." They are often diagnosed at a late stage when the disease is much more difficult to treat and cure . Although new information is now coming out that pancreatic cancer in its early stages has flu like symptoms, it is often missed by doctors.

Early Detection

In some cases it is possible to find some cancers before symptoms occur. Early detection of certain cancers before symptoms occur is possible with cancer-related check-ups and specific tests. For more information on early detection tests, you may wish to consult the following resources.

Personalized Medicine
Recently Diagnosed
Cancer 101
Latina Navigator Training


It is important to remember that ailments often do not result in a cancer diagnosis.

General Cancer Signs and Symptoms

Listed here are key signs and symptoms of cancer according to the American Cancer Society. It is important to learn this information, but remember that having any of these does not always mean you have cancer. There are many other conditions which can cause these signs and symptoms. Likewise, there are many other signs and symptoms associated with cancer that are not included here.

A Partial List of Symptoms:

  • Unexplained Weight Loss
    An unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more may be the first sign of cancer, particularly cancers of the pancreas, stomach, esophagus, or lung.
  • Fever
    Fever is very common with cancer, but is more often seen in advanced disease. Less often, fever may be an early sign of cancer, such as with leukemia or lymphoma.
  • Fatigue
    Fatigue may happen early in cancers such as leukemia , or if the cancer is causing an ongoing loss of blood such as colon or stomach cancers.
  • Pain
    Pain may be an early symptom in some cancers such as bone or testicular cancer. Usually, pain is a symptom of advanced disease.
  • Skin Changes
    Cancers of the skin, and some internal cancers can cause signs visible on the skin, including darker skin, yellow or red skin (jaundice for pancreatic cancer), as well as itching or excessive hair growth.
  • Change in Bowel Habits or Bladder Function
    Long-term constipation, diarrhea, or a change in the size of the stool may be a sign of colon cancer. Pain with urination, blood in the urine, or a change in bladder function, including more or less frequent urination, could be related to bladder or prostate cancer.
  • Sores That Do Not Heal
    Skin cancers may bleed and look like sores that do not heal. A long-lasting sore in the mouth could be an oral cancer and should be dealt with right away, especially in those who smoke, chew tobacco, or drink alcohol frequently . Sores on the penis or vagina may either be signs of infection or an early cancer.
  • Unusual Bleeding or Discharge
    Unusual bleeding can occur in either early or advanced cancer.
  • Blood in the phlegm may be a sign of lung cancer.

  • Blood in the stool, or a dark or black stool, could be a sign of colon or rectal cancer.

  • Cancer of the cervix or the endometrium (lining of the uterus) can cause vaginal bleeding.

  • Blood in the urine may be a sign of bladder or kidney cancer.

  • A bloody discharge from the nipple may be a sign of breast cancer.
  • Thickening or Lump in Breast or Other Parts of the Body
    Some cancers can be felt through the skin, mostly in the breast, testicle, lymph nodes (glands), and the soft tissues of the body. A lump or thickening may be an early or late sign of cancer.
  • Indigestion or Trouble Swallowing
    While commonly having other causes, indigestion or swallowing problems may be a sign of cancer of the esophagus, stomach, or pharynx (throat).

  • Nagging Cough or Hoarseness
  • A cough that does not go away may be a sign of lung cancer. Hoarseness can be a sign of cancer of the larynx (voice box) or thyroid.
  • Recent Change in a Wart or Mole
    A simple rule to follow recommended by the
    Skin Cancer Foundation (

A for asymmetry: If you drew a line through center, the two sides would not match.

B for border: Edges are uneven, scalloped or notched.

C for color: A mix of colors, including brown, tan, black, blue and red, are in the same lesion.

D for diameter: It’s larger than a pencil eraser, about 6 millimeters.

E for evolving: It’s changing in size, shape, color or elevation or starting to bleed, itch or crust.

Also watch for the “ugly duckling sign” – one mole that looks differently from those around it. The skin lesion may be a melanoma, which if diagnosed early, can be treated successfully.



Recognize that you may be overly cautious the first 6 months to a year after treatment ends. You may think every small ache or pain means your cancer has returned.

Stay in touch with your doctor about all of your concerns.
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