Symptoms and common cancers

Knowing the symptoms of common cancers could make a real difference. Usually, the earlier cancer is found, the more likely it is to be cured. Below are some of the most common cancers in the UK.

  • Lung cancer is common in both men and women. Smoking is the main cause of lung cancer, but non-smokers get it too.
  • Bowel cancer can affect both men and women. Most people who get bowel cancer are over 50.
  • Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. More than 41,700 men in the UK are diagnosed with it each year.
  • Kidney and bladder cancers are more common in men and people over 50.
  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the UK. Men can also get breast cancer, but this is rare.
  • Ovarian cancer is more common in women over 50.
  • Melanoma cancer is one of the most common cancers in people aged 15–34.
  • Mouth cancer is more common in men and people over 50.

You’re not wasting your doctor's time by getting symptoms checked. If you need support or just want someone to talk to, call Macmillan free on 0808 808 00 00.

You can download or order our fold-out card on the signs and symptoms of the main cancers for men and women.

Know what changes to look for

More than 330,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in the UK each year. People of any age can get cancer, but it’s most common over the age of 50.

You are not wasting your doctor’s time by getting your symptoms checked. The earlier cancer is found, the more likely it is to be cured.

Knowing what changes to look for and when to see your GP could make a real difference. Don’t be scared – if you have symptoms, get them checked.

A light green watercolour paint splash with the quote 'I did the typical bloke thing of ignoring it' written on it.

Symptoms of lung cancer

Lung cancer is common in both men and women. Smoking is the main cause of lung cancer, but non-smokers get it too. Almost 9 in 10 people diagnosed with lung cancer are over 60.

Knowing what changes to look for and when to see your doctor could make a real difference. Don’t be scared if you have symptoms – get them checked.

See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

  • A cough that lasts for three weeks or more.
  • A change in a cough you have had for a long time.
  • A chest infection that doesn’t get better, or repeated chest infections.
  • Feeling breathless for no reason.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • A hoarse voice that lasts for three weeks or more.
  • Pain in your chest or shoulder that doesn’t get better.
  • Feeling more tired than usual for some time.

Most people with these symptoms do not have lung cancer – they can be caused by other things. But if you have symptoms, don’t ignore them – see your doctor. If you do have cancer, the sooner it’s found, the better.

The earlier lung cancer is found, the more likely it is to be successfully treated.

‘I had a cough that lasted three weeks, so I went to my GP'

Harry


Symptoms of bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK. It can affect both men and women. Most people who get bowel cancer are over 50. Knowing what changes to look for and when to see your doctor could make a real difference. Don’t be scared if you have symptoms – get them checked.

See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Blood in your poo (stools or bowel motions) for three weeks or more.
  • Looser poo or diarrhoea that lasts for three weeks or more.
  • Pain or a lump in your tummy or back passage (rectum).
  • Feeling like you haven’t emptied your bowel properly after going to the toilet.
  • Losing weight for no obvious reason.
  • Feeling more tired than usual for some time.

Most people with these symptoms do not have bowel cancer – they can be caused by other things. But don’t try to diagnose yourself – see your doctor. If you do have cancer, the sooner it’s found, the more likely it is to be successfully treated.

You are not wasting your doctor’s time by getting your symptoms checked. The earlier bowel cancer is found, the more likely it is to be cured.


Symptoms of prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. More than 41,700 men in the UK are diagnosed with it each year. You are at a higher risk if you are over 50, of African-Caribbean or African origin, or have a father or brother who has had prostate cancer.

Knowing what changes to look for and when to see your doctor could make a real difference. Don’t be scared if you have symptoms – get them checked.

See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Difficulty starting to pee.
  • A weak flow of pee.
  • Urgently needing to pee.
  • Needing to pee often, especially at night.

Having one or more of these symptoms does not usually mean you have prostate cancer – they are often caused by other things.

But if you have symptoms, don’t ignore them – see your doctor. If you do have cancer, the sooner it’s found, the better.

The earlier prostate cancer is found, the more likely it is to be successfully treated.

'After needing to go to the loo three or four times an hour, I decided to see the doctor.'

John


Symptoms of kidney and bladder cancer

Over 20,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bladder or kidney cancer each year. These cancers are more common in men and people over 50.

Knowing what changes to look for and when to see your doctor could make a real difference. Don’t be scared if you have symptoms – get them checked.

See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Blood in your pee, even if it's only once.
  • Needing to pee suddenly or urgently.
  • Pain or a burning feeling when you pee.
  • A lump in your tummy.

These symptoms can be caused by things other than cancer, such as an infection, bladder stones or kidney stones. But don’t try to diagnose yourself – see your doctor. It could save your life. If you do have cancer, the sooner it’s found, the more likely it is to be cured.


Symptoms of breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the UK. It is more common in women over 50, and 1 in 3 breast cancers develops in women over 70. Men can also get breast cancer, but this is rare.

Knowing what changes to look for and when to see your doctor could make a real difference. Don’t be scared if you have symptoms – get them checked.

See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

  • A lump or thickening in your breast or armpit.
  • A change in the size or shape of your breast.
  • A change to your nipple, such as a rash, discharge or the nipple turning in.
  • A change to the skin on your breast, such as puckering or dimpling.
  • Constant discomfort or pain in your breast.

Most breast changes are not caused by cancer. But if you notice anything that isn’t normal for you, see your doctor.

Get to know how your breasts look and feel. If there are changes, this will help you spot them early.

You are not wasting your doctor’s time by getting your symptoms checked. The earlier breast cancer is found, the more likely it is to be successfully treated.


Symptoms of ovarian cancer

About 7,100 women in the UK are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. Ovarian cancer is more common in women over 50. If two or more of your close relatives (your mother, sisters or daughters) have had ovarian or breast cancer, you may be at a higher risk.

If you have any of these symptoms most days for three weeks or more, see your doctor:

  • Feeling bloated (a swollen tummy).
  • Feeling full quickly or not wanting to eat much.
  • Pain in your lower tummy or back.
  • Needing to pee more often or more urgently than normal.

Most women with these symptoms do not have ovarian cancer. But it is important to get them checked in case you do.

Don’t be scared if you have symptoms – get them checked.

The earlier ovarian cancer is found, the more likely it is that treatment will be successful.

'My stomach had swelled so much that I looked six months pregnant.'

Julia


Symptoms of melanoma

People with fair skin that freckles and burns in the sun are at a higher risk of getting a type of skin cancer called melanoma. You can reduce your risk by taking care in the sun and not using sunbeds.

More than 13,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with melanoma each year. It is one of the most common cancers in people aged 15–34, but you can get it at any age.

Knowing what changes to look for and when to see your doctor could make a real difference. Don’t be scared if you have symptoms – get them checked.

See your doctor straight away if you notice a new mole, a change in an existing mole, or a change in your skin. Always see your doctor if you have a mole that:

  • is changing in size, shape or colour
  • is not symmetrical
  • has a border with jagged edges
  • is more than one colour or shade of brown
  • is wider than 7mm (about the size of the blunt end of a pencil)
  • tingles or itches
  • bleeds or is crusty.

You should also see your doctor if you have changes in a nail, such as:

a new, dark-coloured stripe along part of the nail

something growing under the nail.

These symptoms can be caused by things other than melanoma. But don’t try to diagnose yourself – see your doctor. If you do have melanoma, the sooner it’s found, the better the chance of successful treatment.

When it is found early, melanoma can usually be cured with a simple treatment.

'I found a mole on the back of my knee. It didn't look right so I went to my GP.'

Philip


Symptoms of mouth cancer

More than 6,400 people in the UK get mouth cancer each year. It's more common in men and people over 50. Smoking, drinking alcohol and chewing paan or tobacco increase your risk of getting mouth cancer.

Knowing what changes to look for and when to see your dentist or doctor could make a real difference. Don’t be scared if you have symptoms – get them checked.

See your dentist or doctor if you have any of these symptoms for three weeks or more:

  • An ulcer in your mouth that doesn’t heal.
  • A red or white patch in your mouth.
  • A sore tongue, mouth or throat that doesn’t get better.
  • A swelling or lump in your mouth or neck.
  • Hoarseness or other voice changes.
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing.
  • Feeling that something is stuck in your throat.
  • Numbness of your tongue or another area of your mouth.
  • One or more unexplained loose teeth.

These symptoms are often caused by things other than cancer. But don’t try to diagnose yourself – get them checked. If you do have cancer, the sooner it’s found, the better the chance of successful treatment.

The earlier mouth cancer is diagnosed, the more likely it is to be cured.

'I found some ulcers under my tongue. When they didn't get better I went to see a GP.'

Christine

Back to Understanding

What is cancer?

There are more than 200 different kinds of cancer, each with its own name and treatment.

Cancer and cell types

Cancers are grouped into types. Types of cancer often behave and respond to treatments in different ways.

Getting diagnosed

If you have any unusual symptoms or changes to your body that are worrying you, go and see your GP.

How is cancer treated?

There are five main types of cancer treatment. You may receive one, or a combination of treatments, depending on your cancer type.

Why do cancers come back?

Sometimes, tiny cancer cells are left behind after cancer treatment. These can divide to form a new tumour.