Key signs and symptoms of cancer

It is important to know your body and to tell your doctor if you notice a change which isn’t normal for you.

  • Anyone can develop cancer, but it’s more common as we get older – most cases are in people aged 50 or over
  • Don’t just put something new or different about your body down to things like getting older. If you notice any unusual or persistent changes, go and see your doctor
  • The symptoms below are more likely to be caused by something far less serious than cancer, but they could be a sign of the disease
  • Spotting cancer early means treatment is more likely to be successful (learn more about why early diagnosis is important)

This list, in no special order, highlights some of the key symptoms to be aware of. But if you spot something that isn’t normal for you, get it checked out.

It’s not unusual to feel out of breath every now and then. But if you notice that you’re feeling breathless more than usual or for a lot of the time, tell your doctor.

Bleeding or ‘spotting’ between periods is a fairly common side effect of the contraceptive pill. But bleeding from the vagina between periods, after sex or post-menopause should be checked out by your doctor.

It is normal to feel slight discomfort or pain sometimes after eating a large, fatty or spicy meal. But if you are experiencing heartburn or indigestion a lot, or if it is particularly painful, then you should see your doctor.

Having a croaky voice or feeling hoarse can be common with colds. But a croaky voice that hasn’t gone away on its own after a few weeks should be checked out by your doctor.

Loose, frequent bowel motions are usually caused by stomach bugs or food poisoning, but if you have noticed a change to looser poo or pooing more often that has lasted 4-6 weeks or more, then it’s important to tell your doctor.

It’s quite common for women to experience bloating of the abdomen that comes and goes. But if you feel bloated, most days, for 3 weeks or more, make an appointment to see your doctor.

A number of medical conditions can make it difficult to swallow. But if you are having difficulty swallowing and the problem doesn’t go away after a couple of weeks, it should be checked out.

The skin repairs itself very quickly and any damage usually heals within a week or so. When a spot, wart or sore doesn’t heal after several weeks, even if it’s painless, a doctor needs to check it.

It’s common to get ulcers in the mouth when you’re a bit run down. The lining of the mouth renews itself every 2 weeks or so, which is why ulcers usually heal within this time. But an ulcer that doesn’t heal after 3 weeks should be reported to your doctor or dentist.

Sweating at night can be caused by infections or it can be a side effect of certain medications. It’s also often experienced by women around the time of the menopause. But very heavy, drenching night sweats can also be a sign of cancer and should be checked out by your doctor.

Lumps are not the only breast changes that should be reported to a doctor. Also look out for any change in the size, shape or feel of a breast, a change to the skin texture, redness, pain in the breast, a nipple change or fluid leaking from the nipple in a woman who is not pregnant or breastfeeding. Make sure your doctor knows about any changes.

The most common cause of blood in your poo (stools) is piles (haemorrhoids). But blood in your poo can sometimes be a sign of cancer. Your doctor wants to know if you spot blood when you go to the toilet.

Blood in your pee (urine) should always be reported to a doctor. Usually this is not caused by cancer and can be treated quickly and easily, but it could be a sign of cancer. Your doctor will be able to tell you what the cause is.

Small weight changes over time are quite normal, but if you lose a noticeable amount of weight without trying to, tell your doctor.

Most moles remain harmless throughout our lives. But be aware of any new moles or existing moles that change in size, shape or colour, become crusty or bleed or ooze, and tell your doctor.

If you’ve coughed up blood, no matter how much or what colour, it’s important to tell your doctor. It may be nothing to worry about, but it’s important to get it checked out.

Coughs are common with colds. But if a cough continues for more than 3 weeks or gets worse, make sure you tell your doctor.

Problems peeing (urinating) can include needing to pee urgently, more frequently, being unable to go when you need to, or experiencing pain. These symptoms can all be caused by conditions other than cancer, but it’s important to tell your doctor if you experience any of them.

Pain is one way our bodies tell us that something is wrong. As we get older, it‘s more common to experience aches and pains. But if you have unexplained, ongoing pain, or pain that comes and goes for more than 4 weeks, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Persistent lumps or swelling in any part of your body should be taken seriously, including in the neck, armpit, stomach, groin, chest, breast or testicle. See your doctor to have it checked out.

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