Key signs and symptoms of cancer

It’s 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 put something new or different about your body down to getting older or another health condition you might have. If you notice any unusual changes or anything that doesn’t go away, see your doctor
  • The symptoms below are more often 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

The list below highlights some of the key symptoms to be aware of.

Some possible signs of cancer – like a lump - are better known than others. Because of this, less well-known possible cancer symptoms are listed here first. But that doesn’t mean they’re more important, or more likely to be cancer.

And remember, if you spot anything that isn’t normal for you, whether it’s on this list or not, get it checked out.

Click on the symptoms below for more information. 

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 can be a side effect of the contraceptive pill. But still see your doctor if you bleed from the vagina between periods, or after sex or after the menopause. 

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.

Having a croaky voice or feeling hoarse can be common with colds. But a croaky voice that hasn’t gone away on its own 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 have heartburn or indigestion a lot, or if it is particularly painful, then you should see your doctor.

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.

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

Some medical conditions can make it difficult to swallow. But if you are having difficulty swallowing and the problem doesn’t go away, it should be checked out.

Stomach bugs and food poisoning are often the cause of loose, frequent bowel motions. But if you’ve noticed any change in your bowel habit, it’s important to tell your doctor. Whether that’s looser poo, pooing more often, or constipation. 

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, even if it’s painless, a doctor needs to check it.

Appetite loss can happen for many different reasons. Speak to your doctor if you’ve noticed you’re not as hungry as usual and it’s not getting any better. 

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, any skin changes, redness, or pain in the breast. And don’t forget any nipple changes, including 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.

Problems peeing (urinating) can include needing to pee urgently, or more frequently. It might also include 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.

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. Let your doctor know. 

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 doesn’t go away or gets worse, make sure you tell your doctor.

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, make an appointment to see your doctor.

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

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