Symptoms and signs of cancer depend on the type of cancer, where it is located, and/or where the cancer cells have spread. For example, breast cancer may present as a lump in the breast or as nipple discharge while metastatic breast cancer may present with symptoms of pain (if spread to bones), extreme fatigue (lungs), or seizures (brain). A few patients show no signs or symptoms until the cancer is far advanced. However, there are some signs and symptoms, although not specific, which usually occur in most cancer patients that are fairly easy for the person to detect. They are as follows:
- Fever (no clear infectious source, recurrent or constant)
- Fatigue (not relived by rest)
- Weight loss (without trying to lose weight)
- Pain (usually persistent)
- Skin changes (coloration, sores that do not heal, white spots in mouth or on tongue, wart changes)
- Change in bowel or bladder functions (including trouble swallowing or constipation)
- Unusual bleeding (mouth, vaginal, and bladder) or discharge
- Persistent cough or change in voice
- Lumps or tissue masses
Anyone with these signs and symptoms should consult their doctor.
Many cancers will present with some of the above general symptoms but often have one or more symptoms that are more specific for the cancer type. For example, lung cancer may present with common symptoms of pain, but usually the pain is located in the chest. The patient may have unusual bleeding, but the bleeding usually occurs when the patient coughs. Lung cancer patients often become short of breath, and then become very fatigued.
Because there are so many cancer types (see next section) with so many nonspecific and sometimes more specific symptoms, the best way to learn about signs and symptoms of specific cancer types is to spend a few moments researching symptoms of a specific body area in question. Conversely, a specific body area can be searched to discover what signs and symptoms a person should look for in that area that is suspected of having cancer. The following examples are two ways to proceed to get information on symptoms:
- Use a search engine (Google, Bing) to find links to cancer by listing the symptom followed by the term "cancer." For example, listing "blood in urine and cancer" will bring a person to web sites that list possible organs and body systems where cancer may produce the listed symptoms.
- Use a search engine as above and list the suspected body area and cancer (for example, bladder and cancer), and the person will see sites that list the signs and symptoms of cancer in that area (blood in urine being one of several symptoms listed).
In addition, if the cancer type is known (diagnosed), then even more specific searches can be done listing the diagnosed cancer type and whatever may be questioned about the cancer (symptoms, tumor grades, treatments, prognosis, and many other items).
Your own research should not replace consulting a health-care provider if you ae concerned about cancer.