Skip to main content

Identifying cancer symptoms and signs

< Back to the article list

Whether you feel like you are coming down with a bug or have aches in places that were never a problem before, it’s helpful to know if any of the symptoms you are experiencing are something that needs to be looked at by a professional.

How do cancer symptoms originate?

Specific cancer signs and symptoms will largely depend on the area of the body affected. Every person will respond differently. Certain types of cancer will push on organs and reduce their working ability over time, the impact of which will manifest in different ways.

Blood cancers will cause symptoms by changing cells, making them work against your own body. Reducing oxygen production, if it spreads to the bone marrow, will halt production of new blood cells, causing severe anemia. It is likely that this may be picked up early, but it can also progress quite quickly and may manifest in lethargy, aches and pains.

Small tumors, found in a critical area, such as the brain, can cause symptoms. In such a sensitive and well-connected part of the body, the effects can be dramatic even early on. You may feel more generic malaise, like fever or flu-like symptoms, headaches, fatigue or unexplained weight loss.

Cancer cells cause the body to use a considerable amount of its energy supply. This can result in fatigue and weight loss. You may notice changes in the appearance of your skin as a result of cell changes.

Are there specific signs and symptoms for specific cancers?

If you have experienced a change in bowel habits or bladder function, such as long-term constipation, diarrhea or a change in your stool, then it’s certainly worth booking an appointment with your doctor to rule out bowel cancer. If you have started to experience pain on urinating or have seen blood in your urine, then report any changes as this may indicate bladder or prostate cancer. Other unusual bleeding or discharge can be signs of cervical or colon cancers.

Many cancers can be felt through the skin – either in breast tissue, testicles or in the lymph nodes. Breast cancers can also reveal themselves as red, thickened skin. Any lumps on the body should be reported to your doctor – many will be benign but others will require further investigation.

White patches inside your mouth or on your tongue could indicate mouth cancer. A cough that won’t go away can be a warning sign of lung cancer. With some cancers, however, there are few or no early warning signs. Pancreatic cancer, for example, causes few symptoms other than prolonged back pain. It’s an example of a cancer that is often not diagnosed until it’s in an advanced stage.

How best to support someone who may have cancer

Cancer treatment works best when the disease is detected as early as possible. The sooner it’s found, the less likely the disease will have spread - meaning that your survival rate is likely to be higher. Melanoma, for example, has a 98% 5-year survival rate if found early. However, if the cancer has spread before it’s detected, this dramatically falls to a survival rate of just 23%.

Some people ignore cancer symptoms as they may not prioritize their health or they may be scared of facing a diagnosis. However, knowledge is power and arming yourself with awareness of early cancer symptoms and signs to look for just may save your life.

Related articles