MSD Manual

Please confirm that you are not located inside the Russian Federation

honeypot link

Warning Signs of Cancer

By

Robert Peter Gale

, MD, PhD, DSC(hc), Imperial College London

Medically Reviewed Oct 2022
VIEW PROFESSIONAL VERSION
GET THE QUICK FACTS

Some symptoms develop early in the course of cancer, such as a painless lump in the breast, and are therefore important warning signs that should be evaluated by a doctor. Other symptoms, such as weight loss or fever, develop only after the cancer progresses. Still other symptoms, such as a change in bowel habits, blood in the stool, or swallowing difficulty, are signs of cancer in specific sites of the body.

Because cancer is more likely to be cured if it is less advanced when treatment is begun, it is critical that cancer be discovered early. Some symptoms may give early warning of cancer and should, therefore, trigger a person to seek medical care. Fortunately, most of these symptoms are usually caused by far less serious conditions. Nonetheless, the development of any of the warning signs of cancer should not be ignored.

Some of the warning signs are general. That is, they are vague changes that do not help pinpoint any particular cancer. Still, their presence can help direct doctors to do the physical examinations and laboratory tests necessary to exclude or confirm a diagnosis. Other symptoms are much more specific and steer doctors to a particular kind of cancer or location.

Warning signs of possible cancer include the following:

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Fatigue

  • Night sweats

  • Loss of appetite

  • New, persistent pain

  • Problems with vision or hearing

  • Recurrent nausea or vomiting

  • Blood in urine

  • Blood in stool (either visible or detectable by special tests)

  • A recent change in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea)

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding, especially after menopause

  • Recurrent fever

  • Chronic cough

  • Changes in the size or color of a mole or changes in a skin ulcer that does not heal

  • A growth or mark on the skin that gets larger or changes in appearance

  • A sore that does not heal

  • Enlarged lymph nodes

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: VIEW PROFESSIONAL VERSION
VIEW PROFESSIONAL VERSION
quiz link

Test your knowledge

Take a Quiz! 
iOS ANDROID
iOS ANDROID
iOS ANDROID
TOP