Look out for symptoms
For your easy reference, the symptoms of the various types of cancer were extracted from the booklets published by National Cancer Institute. Please note that this checklist may not be complete. If you have additional information, we welcome your contributions.
Select the type of cancer :
Some common symptoms of bladder cancer include:
- Blood in the urine (slightly rusty to deep red in color).
- Pain during urination.
- Frequent urination, or feeling the need to urinate without results.
When symptoms occur, they are not sure signs of bladder cancer. They may also be caused by infections, benign tumors, bladder stones, or other problems. Only a doctor can make a diagnosis. (People with symptoms like these generally see their family doctor or a urologist, a
doctor who specializes in diseases of the urinary system.) It is important to see a doctor so that any illness can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.
What are the symptoms of bone cancer?
Pain is the most common symptom of bone cancer. However, symptoms
may vary depending on the location and size of the cancer. Tumors that
occur in or near joints may cause swelling or tenderness in the affected area. Bone cancer can also interfere with normal movements and can weaken the bones, occasionally leading to a fracture. Other symptoms may include fatigue, fever, weight loss, and anemia. None of these symptoms is a sure sign of cancer. They may also be caused by other, less serious conditions. It is important to check with a doctor.
Symptoms of Brain Tumors
The symptoms of brain tumors depend mainly on their size and their location in the brain. Symptoms are caused by damage to vital tissue and by pressure on the brain as the tumor grows within the limited space in the skull. They also may be caused by swelling and a buildup of fluid around the tumor, a condition called edema. Symptoms may also be due to hydrocephalus, which occurs when the tumor blocks the flow of cerebrospinal fluid and causes it to build up in the ventricles. If a brain tumor grows very slowly, its symptoms may appear so gradually that they are overlooked for a long time.
The most frequent symptoms of brain tumors include:
- Headaches that tend to be worse in the morning and ease during the day,
- Seizures (convulsions),
- Nausea or vomiting,
- Weakness or loss of feeling in the arms or legs,
- Stumbling or lack of coordination in walking (ataxic gait),
- Abnormal eye movements or changes in vision,
- Changes in personality or memory, and
- Changes in speech.
These symptoms may be caused by brain tumors or by other problems. Only a doctor can make a diagnosis.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Early breast cancer usually does not cause pain. In fact, when breast cancer first develops, there may be no symptoms at all. But as the cancer grows, it can cause changes that women should watch for:
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area;
- A change in the size or shape of the breast;
- Nipple discharge or tenderness, or the nipple pulled back (inversion) into the breast;
- Ridges or pitting of the breast (the skin looks like the skin of an orange; or
- A change in the way the skin of the breast, areola, or nipple looks or feels (for example, warm, swollen, red, or scaly).
A woman should see her doctor about any symptoms like these. Most often, they are not cancer, but it's important to check with the doctor so that any problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.
Symptoms of Cervix
Precancerous changes of the cervix usually do not cause pain. In fact, they generally do not cause any symptoms and are not detected unless a woman has a pelvic exam and a Pap test.
Symptoms usually do not appear until abnormal cervical cells become cancerous and invade nearby tissue. When this happens, the most common symptom is abnormal bleeding. Bleeding may start and stop between regular menstrual periods, or it may occur after sexual intercourse,
douching, or a pelvic exam. Menstrual bleeding may last longer and be heavier than usual.
Bleeding after menopause also may be a symptom of cervical cancer. Increased vaginal discharge is another symptom of cervical cancer.
These symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other health problems. Only a doctor can tell for sure. It is important for a woman to see her doctor if she is having any of these symptoms.
Colon & Rectum
Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
Common signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
- A change in bowel habits
- Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
- Blood (either bright red or very dark) in the stool
- Stools that are narrower than usual
- General abdominal discomfort (frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, and/or cramps)
- Weight loss with no known reason
- Constant tiredness
These symptoms may be caused by colorectal cancer or by other conditions. It is important to check with a doctor.
Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer
Early esophageal cancer usually does not cause symptoms. However, as the cancer grows, symptoms may include:
- Difficult or painful swallowing
- Severe weight loss
- Pain in the throat or back, behind the breastbone or between the shoulder blades
- Hoarseness or chronic cough
- Coughing up blood
These symptoms may be caused by esophageal cancer or by other conditions. It is important to check with a doctor.
Symptoms of Hodgkin's disease may include the following:
- A painless swelling in the lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, or groin
- Unexplained recurrent fevers
- Night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
- Itchy skin
When symptoms like these occur, they are not sure signs of Hodgkin's disease. In most cases, they are actually caused by other, less serious conditions, such as the flu. When symptoms like these persist, however, it is important to see a doctor so that any illness can be diagnosed and treated. Only a doctor can make a diagnosis of Hodgkin's disease.
Do not wait to feel pain; early Hodgkin's disease may not cause pain.
Symptoms of Kidney Cancer
In its early stages, kidney cancer usually causes no obvious signs or troublesome symptoms. However, as a kidney tumor grows, symptoms may occur. These may include:
Other less common symptoms may include:
- Blood in the urine. Blood may be present one day and not the next. In some cases, a person can actually see the blood, or traces of it may be found in urinalysis, a lab test often performed as part of a regular medical checkup.
- A lump or mass in the kidney area.
- Loss of appetite;
- Weight loss;
- Recurrent fevers;
- A pain in the side that doesn't go away; and/or
- A general feeling of poor health.
High blood pressure or a lower than normal number of red cells in the blood (anemia ) may also signal a kidney tumor; however, these symptoms occur less often.
These symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other, less serious problems such as an infection or a cyst. Only a doctor can make a diagnoses. People with any of these symptoms may see their family doctor or a urologist, a doctor who specializes in diseases of the urinary system.
Usually, early cancer does not cause pain; it is important not to wait to feel pain before seeing a doctor.
In most cases, the earlier cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better a person's chance for a full recovery.
Symptoms of cancer of the larynx
The symptoms of cancer of the larynx depend mainly on the size and location of the tumor. Most cancers of the larynx begin on the vocal cords. These tumors are seldom painful, but they almost always cause hoarseness or other changes in the voice. Tumors in the area above the vocal cords may cause a lump on the neck, a sore throat, or an earache. Tumors that begin in the area below the vocal cords are rare. They can make it hard to breathe, and breathing may be noisy.
A cough that doesn't go away or the feeling of a lump in the throat may also be warning signs of cancer of the larynx. As the tumor grows, it may cause pain, weight loss, bad breath, and frequent choking on food. In some cases, a tumor in the larynx can make it hard to swallow.
Any of these symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other, less serious problems. Only a doctor can tell for sure. People with symptoms like these usually see an ear, nose, and throat specialist (otolaryngologist).
Symptoms of Leukemia
Leukemia cells are abnormal cells that cannot do what normal blood cells do. They cannot help the body fight infections. For this reason, people with leukemia often get infections and have fevers.
Also, people with leukemia often have less than the normal amount of healthy red blood cells and platelets. As a result, there are not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen through the body. With this condition, called anemia, patients may look pale and feel weak and tired. When there are not enough platelets, patients bleed and bruise easily.
Like all blood cells, leukemia cells travel through the body. Depending on the number of abnormal cells and where these cells collect, patients with leukemia may have a number of symptoms.
In acute leukemia, symptoms appear and get worse quickly. People with this disease go to their doctor because they feel sick. In chronic leukemia, symptoms may not appear for a long time; when symptoms do appear, they generally are mild at first and get worse gradually. Doctors often find chronic leukemia during a routine checkup--before there are any symptoms.
These are some of the common symptoms of leukemia:
- Fever, chills, and other flu-like symptoms;
- Weakness and fatigue;
- Frequent infections;
- Loss of appetite and/or weight;
- Swollen or tender lymph nodes, liver, or spleen;
- Easy bleeding or bruising;
- Tiny red spots (called petechiae) under the skin;
- Swollen or bleeding gums;
- Sweating, especially at night; and/or
- Bone or joint pain.
In acute leukemia, the abnormal cells may collect in the brain or spinal cord (also called the central nervous system or CNS). The result may be headaches, vomiting, confusion, loss of muscle control, and seizures. Leukemia cells also can collect in the testicles and cause swelling.
Also, some patients develop sores in the eyes or on the skin. Leukemia also can affect the digestive tract, kidneys, lungs, or other parts of the body.
In chronic leukemia, the abnormal blood cells may gradually collect in various parts of the body. Chronic leukemia may affect the skin, central nervous system, digestive tract, kidneys, and testicles.
Symptoms of liver cancer
Primary liver cancer is difficult to detect at an early stage because its first symptoms are usually vague. As with other types of cancer, this disease can cause a general feeling of poor health. Cancer of the liver can lead to loss of appetite, weight loss, fever, fatigue, and weakness.
As the cancer grows, pain may develop in the upper abdomen on the right
side and may extend into the back and shoulder. Some people can feel a
mass in the upper abdomen. Liver cancer can also lead to abdominal
swelling and a feeling of fullness or bloating. Some people have episodes of fever and nausea, or develop jaundice, a condition in which the skin and the whites of the eyes become yellow and the urine becomes dark.
It is important to note that these symptoms can be caused by primary or
metastatic cancer in the liver, by a benign (noncancerous) liver tumor, or by other, less serious conditions. Only a doctor can tell for sure.
Symptoms of Lung Cancer
Common signs and symptoms of lung cancer include:
These symptoms may be caused by lung cancer or by other conditions. It is important to check with a doctor.
- A cough that doesn't go away and gets worse over time
- Constant chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness
- Repeated problems with pneumonia or bronchitis
- Swelling of the neck and face
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
Symptoms of Melanoma
Often, the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of an existing mole.
Most melanomas have a black or blue-black area. Melanoma also may appear as a new, black, abnormal, or "ugly-looking" mole.
If you have a question or concern about something on your skin, do not use these pictures to try to diagnose it yourself. Pictures are useful examples, but they cannot take the place of a doctor's examination.
Thinking of "ABCD" can help you remember what to watch for:
- Asymmetry--The shape of one half does not match the other.
- Border--The edges are often ragged, notched, blurred, or irregular in outline; the pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.
- Color--The color is uneven. Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, grey, red, pink, or blue also may be seen.
- Diameter--There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas are usually larger that the eraser of a pencil (5 mm or 1/4 inch).
Melanomas can vary greatly in the ways they look. Many show all of the ABCD features.
However, some may show changes or abnormalities in only one or two of the ABCD features.
Early melanomas may be found when a pre-existing mole changes slightly--such as forming a new black area. Other frequent findings are newly formed fine scales or itching in a mole. In more advanced melanoma, the texture of the mole may change. For example, it may become hard or lumpy. Although melanomas may feel different and more advanced tumors may itch, ooze, or bleed, melanomas usually do not cause pain.
Melanoma can be cured if it is diagnosed and treated when the tumor is thin and has not deeply invaded the skin. However, if a melanoma is not removed at its early stages, cancer cells may grow downward from the skin surface, invading healthy tissue. When a melanoma becomes thick
and deep, the disease often spreads to other parts of the body and is difficult to control.
A skin examination is often part of a routine checkup by a doctor, nurse specialist, or nurse practitioner. People also can check their own skin for new growths or other changes. Changes in the skin or a mole should be reported to the doctor or nurse without delay. The person may be referred to a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in diseases of the skin.
People who have had melanoma have a high risk of developing a new melanoma. Also, those with relatives who have had this disease have an increased risk. Doctors may advise people at risk to check their skin regularly and to have regular skin exams by a doctor or nurse specialist.
Some people have certain abnormal-looking moles, called dysplastic nevi or atypical moles, that may be more likely than normal moles to develop into melanoma. Most people with dysplastic nevi have just a few of these abnormal moles; others have many. They and their doctor should
examine these moles regularly to watch for changes.
Dysplastic nevi often look very much like melanoma. Doctors with special training in skin diseases are in the best position to decide whether an abnormal-looking mole should be closely watched or should be removed and checked for cancer.
In some families, many members have a large number of dysplastic nevi, and some have had melanoma. Members of these families have a very high risk for melanoma. Doctors often recommend that they have frequent checkups (every 3 to 6 months) so that any problems can be
detected early. The doctor may take pictures of a person's skin to help in detecting any changes that occur.
Symptoms on non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
The most common symptom of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, or groin.
Other symptoms may include the following:
- Unexplained fever
- Night sweats
- Constant fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
- Itchy skin
- Reddened patches on the skin
When symptoms like these occur, they are not sure signs of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. They may also be caused by other, less serious conditions, such as the flu or other infections. Only a doctor can make a diagnosis. When symptoms are present, it is important to see a doctor so that any illness can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible. Do not wait to feel pain; early non-Hodgkin's lymphoma may not cause pain.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Oral cancer usually occurs in people over the age of 45 but can develop at any age. These are some symptoms to watch for:
- A sore on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal;
- A lump on the lip or in the mouth or throat;
- A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, or lining of the mouth;
- Unusual bleeding, pain, or numbness in the mouth;
- A sore throat that does not go away, or a feeling that something is caught in the throat;
- Difficulty or pain with chewing or swallowing;
- Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable;
- A change in the voice; and/or
- Pain in the ear.
These symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other, less serious problems. It is important to see a dentist or doctor about any symptoms like these, so that the problem can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer is hard to find early. Often there are no symptoms in the early stages and, in many cases, the cancer has spread by the time it is found. The cancer may grow for some time before it causes pressure, pain, or other problems. Even when symptoms appear, they may be so vague that they are ignored.
As the tumor grows, the woman may feel swollen or bloated, or may have general discomfort in the lower abdomen. The disease may cause a loss of appetite or a feeling of fullness, even after a light meal. Other symptoms may include gas, indigestion, nausea, and weight loss. A large tumor may press on nearby organs, such as the bowel or bladder, causing diarrhea or constipation, or frequent urination. Less often, bleeding from the vagina is a symptom of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer may cause swelling due to a buildup of fluid in the abdomen (ascites). Fluid may also collect around the lungs, causing shortness of breath.
These symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other, less serious conditions. Only a doctor can tell for sure.
Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer has been called a "silent" disease because it usually does not cause symptoms early on. The cancer may grow for some time before it causes pressure in the abdomen, pain, or other problems. When symptoms do appear, they may be so vague that they are ignored at first.
For these reasons, pancreatic cancer is hard to find early. In many cases, the cancer has spread outside the pancreas by the time it is found.
When symptoms appear, they depend on the location and size of the tumor. If the tumor blocks the common bile duct so that bile cannot pass into the intestines, the skin and whites of the eyes may become yellow, and the urine may become dark. This condition is called jaundice.
As the cancer grows and spreads, pain often develops in the upper abdomen and sometimes spreads to the back. The pain may become worse after the person eats or lies down. Cancer of the pancreas can also cause nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, and weakness.
Islet cell cancer can cause the pancreas to make too much insulin or other hormones. When this happens, the person may feel weak or dizzy and may have chills, muscle spasms, or diarrhea.
These symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other, less serious problems. Only a doctor can tell for sure.
Symptoms of Prostate Cancer
Early prostate cancer often does not cause symptoms. When symptoms of prostate cancer do occur, they may include some of the following problems:
- A need to urinate frequently, especially at night;
- Difficulty starting urination or holding back urine;
- Inability to urinate;
- Weak or interrupted flow of urine;
- Painful or burning urination;
- Painful ejaculation;
- Blood in urine or semen; and/or
- Frequent pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs.
Any of these symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other, less serious health problems, such as BPH or an infection. Only a doctor can tell the cause. A man who has symptoms like these should see his family doctor or a urologist (a doctor who specializes in treating diseases of the genitourinary system). Do not wait to feel pain; early prostate cancer does not cause pain.
Symptoms of Skin Cancer
The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change on the skin, especially a new growth or a sore that doesn't heal. Skin cancers don't all look the same. For example, the cancer may start as a small, smooth, shiny, pale, or waxy lump. Or it can appear as a firm red lump.
Sometimes, the lump bleeds or develops a crust. Skin cancer can also start as a flat, red spot that is rough, dry, or scaly.
Both basal and squamous cell cancers are found mainly on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun--the head, face, neck, hands, and arms. However, skin cancer can occur anywhere.
Actinic keratosis, which appears as rough, red or brown scaly patches on the skin, is known as a precancerous condition because it sometimes develops into squamous cell cancer. Like skin cancer, it usually appears on sun-exposed areas but can be found elsewhere.
Changes in the skin are not sure signs of cancer; however, it is important to see a doctor if any symptom lasts longer than 2 weeks. Don't wait for the area to hurt--skin cancers seldom cause pain.
Soft Tissue Sarcomas
Symptoms of Soft Tissue Sarcomas
In their early stages, soft tissue sarcomas usually do not cause symptoms.
Because soft tissue is relatively elastic, tumors can grow rather large, pushing aside normal tissue, before they are felt or cause any problems.
The first noticeable symptom is usually a painless lump. As the tumor
grows, it may cause other symptoms, such as pain or soreness, as it
presses against nearby nerves and muscles.
Symptoms of Stomach Cancer
Stomach cancer can be hard to find early. Often there are no symptoms in the early stages and, in many cases, the cancer has spread before it is found. When symptoms do occur, they are often so vague that the person ignores them. Stomach cancer can cause the following:
- Indigestion or a burning sensation (heartburn);
- Discomfort or pain in the abdomen;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Diarrhea or constipation;
- Bloating of the stomach after meals;
- Loss of appetite;
- Weakness and fatigue; and
- Bleeding (vomiting blood or having blood in the stool).
Any of these symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other, less serious health problems, such as a stomach virus or an ulcer. Only a doctor can tell the cause. People who have any of these symptoms should see their doctor. They may be referred to a gastroenterologist, a doctor who
specializes in diagnosing and treating digestive problems. These doctors are sometimes called gastrointestinal (or GI) specialists.
Symptoms of Testicular Cancer
Most testicular cancers are found by men themselves. Also, doctors
generally examine the testicles during routine physical exams. Between
regular checkups, if a man notices anything unusual about his testicles, he should talk with his doctor. When testicular cancer is found early, the treatment can often be less aggressive and may cause fewer side effects.
Men should see a doctor if they notice any of the following symptoms:
These symptoms can be caused by cancer or by other conditions. It is
important to see a doctor to determine the cause of any symptoms.
- A painless lump or swelling in either testicle;
- Any enlargement of a testicle or change in the way it feels;
- A feeling of heaviness in the scrotum;
- A dull ache in the lower abdomen or the groin (the area where the
thigh meets the abdomen);
- A sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum;
- Pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum.
Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
The most common symptom of thyroid cancer is a lump, or nodule, that
can be felt in the neck. Other symptoms are rare. Pain is seldom an early warning sign of thyroid cancer. However, a few patients have a tight or full feeling in the neck, difficulty breathing or swallowing, hoarseness, or swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms can be caused by thyroid cancer or by other, less serious problems. Only a doctor can determine the cause of a person's symptoms.
Symptoms of Uterine Cancer
Abnormal vaginal bleeding, especially after menopause, is the most common symptom of uterine cancer. Bleeding may start as a watery, blood-streaked flow that gradually contains more blood.
Although uterine cancer usually occurs after menopause, it sometimes occurs around the time that menopause begins. Abnormal bleeding should not be considered simply part of menopause; it should always be checked by a doctor.
A woman should see a doctor if she has any of the following symptoms:
These symptoms can be caused by cancer or other less serious conditions. Most often, they are not cancer, but only a doctor can tell for sure.
- Unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge
- Difficult or painful urination
- Pain during intercourse
- Pain in the pelvic area