Signs & Symptoms

Cancer can often be treated more successfully when it is diagnosed in the early stages. In order to spot changes that could be caused by cancer, it’s important to know your body and what is ‘normal’ for you. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s sensible to get it checked with your doctor.

With over 200 different types of cancer, all with different signs, it is difficult to compile a comprehensive list of cancer symptoms. There are, however, some common cancer signs & symptoms we can be aware of. These are listed below.


Cancerous lumps are often, but not always, painless. If you discover a lump anywhere on your body, you should see a doctor, even if it’s not causing you discomfort. It can be useful to make a note of how long it’s been there and if you think it’s growing. It isn’t always easy to tell if a lump or a swelling is cancerous just by feeling it, but if your doctor thinks it is necessary, he/she will refer you to a specialist for further tests and/or a biopsy. Also, note that lumps and bumps often occur on the body and most are harmless. However, if you’re worried, it’s always worth getting it checked out.

Changes in your bowel habits

Changes in bowel habits can be caused by any number of things including a change in diet; medication you may have started taking; and even anxiety. But, if symptoms come on suddenly without an obvious cause or have lasted longer than six weeks, you should see your doctor. Common symptoms of bowel cancer can include:

  • A change in your usual bowel habits
  • A feeling of not fully emptying out the bowels after passing stools
  • Diarrhoea, constipation or passing mucus with your stools
  • Abdominal pains or pain in the back passage
  • Blood mixed in with your stools. This is caused by a bleeding of the tumour if there is one. Normally the blood is dark in colour but it can also be bright red. It should be noted that bright red blood is also, and more often, a sign of haemorrhoids.
Coughing, Breathlessness, and Hoarseness

All of the above are common signs of lung cancer or larynx cancer but these symptoms are also caused by many other illnesses like infections and inflammations. It’s worth seeing a doctor if you’ve found blood in your sputum. Similarly, get your symptoms checked if a cough, breathlessness or hoarseness has lasted more than two weeks.


Any unexplained bleeding is a sign that there is something wrong and should always be checked out by your doctor. We’ve already mentioned that coughing up blood or passing blood in your stools might be caused by cancer. Here are some other common cases where bleeding can be a cancer symptom:

  • Vomiting blood can be a sign of stomach cancer. Of course it can also be caused by a stomach ulcer, but let your doctor decide.
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods or after intercourse can be a sign of cervical cancer or that of the womb. Women who experience vaginal bleeding after they have had their menopause should see a doctor or gynaecologist.
  • Blood in your urine is commonly caused by infection, but it can also be a sign of bladder or kidney cancer. In either case, you should see your doctor.
  • Recurrent nosebleeds or easy bleeding and bruising are symptoms of leukaemia, though leukaemia comes with many other signs too.

The first sign of malignant melanoma, otherwise known as skin cancer, is related to a change in the skin. This can appear in the form of a new mole or an existing mole which may grow; change shape or colour; become itchy or painful; and even bleed or start crusting. Often it can be difficult to tell the difference between an ordinary mole and a melanoma. The ‘ABCDE’ guide below might help:

  • Asymmetrical: Moles are usually symmetrical in shape, melanomas are likely to be asymmetrical.
  • Border: Melanomas have a noticeably irregular border with ragged edges, whereas moles usually have a well-defined border.
  • Colour: Melanomas will often be a mix of more than one colour like brown and black in varying shades; or red and pink, while moles are a single, solid (brown) colour.
  • Diameter: Melanomas are usually larger than 6mm (1/4 inches), while moles tend to be no bigger than the blunt end of a pencil.
  • Enlargement: A mole that changes size or becomes elevated over time is more than likely a melanoma.
Unexplained Weight Loss

You should see your doctor if you experience a dramatic amount of weight loss in a short period of time which is not connected to dietary changes, stress or other changes in lifestyle. If this kind of weight loss is a sign of cancer, it is usually accompanied by other symptoms like fatigue, pain, and poorliness.