Signs and symptoms of cancer
Different types of cancer have different symptoms. These symptoms can be caused by things other than cancer. But if you experience any of the symptoms listed below, or any other unusual symptoms, you should see your GP as soon as possible. You are not wasting your GP’s time by getting your symptoms checked.
If you need support or just want someone to talk to, call Macmillan free on 0808 808 00 00.
You can also download or order our fold-out card on the signs and symptoms of the most common cancers for men and women.
This means a symptom that has no obvious cause. For example, finding a new lump or bleeding when you have not hurt yourself.
Symptoms that are unusual for you
If you have any of the symptoms listed here, tell your GP. You are not wasting their time and it is important to get these symptoms checked.
Unexplained bleeding or bruising
Any unexplained bleeding is a sign that something might be wrong. You should always ask your GP to check it. This can include:
- blood in your pee (urine), poo (stools), spit or vomit
- bruises when you have not hurt yourself
- vaginal bleeding between periods, after sex or after the menopause.
Lumps or swellings
If you notice a new or unexplained lump or swelling anywhere on your body, talk to your GP. It can be useful to tell them:
- how long it has been there
- if it is getting bigger
- if it is painful or uncomfortable.
If you have a new, unexplained pain anywhere in your body for 3 weeks or more, ask your GP to check it.
Severe tiredness (fatigue)
Tell your GP if you have ongoing, severe tiredness for no obvious reason.
Fevers or infections
It is normal to have a high temperature (fever) when you have an infection. You may also have sweats and hot flushes if you are going through the menopause.
But tell your GP if you have infections or unexplained fevers that:
- last a long time
- keep coming back
- regularly soak your bed clothes with sweat overnight.
Tell your GP if you lose weight:
- without trying to
- without changing your diet or doing more physical activity.
Symptoms that affect how you eat
Loss of appetite
Tell your GP if you regularly:
- do not feel like eating as much as you normally do
- feel full quickly when you eat.
Swallowing or chewing problems
If you have any difficulty swallowing or chewing, or a feeling that something is stuck in your throat, you should get it checked by your GP.
Indigestion and heartburn
You may get indigestion or heartburn after eating a large, spicy meal. But you should tell your GP if you get indigestion or heartburn that happens most days for 3 weeks or more, or if it is very painful.
Bladder and bowel symptoms
Tell your GP if you have a bloated or swollen tummy (abdomen) that happens often or lasts a long time. It can help to tell them how long you have had this symptom and how often it happens. Feeling bloated can be caused by many different conditions and some types of cancer. In particular, it can be one of the symptoms of cancer of the ovary, fallopian tube or peritoneum.
If you have any of the following changes for 3 weeks or more, tell your GP:
- loose or runny poo (diarrhoea)
- hard poo (constipation)
- needing to poo (empty your bowels) more often than usual
- changes to the usual routine of when you need to poo
- changes to the size or amount of poo when you go
- blood in your poo, on the toilet paper or in the toilet
Lots of things can cause bowel changes, including a simple change in your diet. But they can sometimes be a symptom of bowel cancer.
Talk to your GP if you have any problems peeing. This includes:
- a weak flow or needing to strain to start peeing
- needing to pee more often than usual
- needing to pee urgently
- pain when you pee
- blood in your pee.
Problems peeing can be caused by many conditions, including some cancers. In particular, they can sometimes be a symptom of prostate cancer.
Symptoms that affect your speech or breathing
Coughs or breathlessness
Breathing or chest problems are common and can be caused by many things. Sometimes they can be a sign of lung cancer. Tell your GP if you:
- have a cough for more than 3 weeks
- have a cough that gets worse
- feel out of breath for no reason
- have breathlessness that is getting worse
- cough up blood.
You may get a hoarse voice if you have a cold or severe indigestion. If it lasts for more than 3 weeks, ask your GP to check it.
Symptoms that affect your skin
Changes to a mole
See your GP straight away if you notice a new mole, a change in an existing mole, or a change in your skin.
A sore that does not heal
Most sores heal very quickly. If you have a sore or mouth ulcer that has not healed after several weeks, you should get it checked by your GP.
Symptoms in other parts of the body
Breast, chest or nipple changes
Most people get headaches from time to time, often because of stress or tension. But if your headaches are getting worse over time or are different from the headaches you usually get, tell your GP.
It is particularly important to tell your GP if:
- your headaches wake you up at night
- your headaches are worse in the morning
- you also feel sick
- you notice a change in your eyesight.
Penis and testicle problems
If you have any changes in how your penis and testicles feel or work, talk to your GP or local sexual health service. You might feel awkward or embarrassed talking about personal problems. But healthcare professionals often have conversations like this, and it is important to get the information you need.
- a lump or sore on the penis
- a swelling or a lump in a testicle
- a swelling or lump where the leg joins to the body (the groin)
- a dull ache, pain or heaviness in the scrotum
- problems getting an erection
- pain or bleeding when you ejaculate (come).
Vulva and vagina problems
If you notice any changes in your vulva or vagina, talk to your GP or local sexual health service. You might feel awkward or embarrassed talking about personal problems. But healthcare professionals often have conversations like this, and it is important to get the information you need.
- a lump, swelling or sore in the vulva or vagina
- a swelling or lump where the leg joins to the body (the groin)
- itching, burning or soreness in the vulva or vagina
- thick or raised red, white or dark patches of skin of the vulva
- a mole on the vulva that changes shape or colour
- unusual vaginal discharge, such as watery, blood-stained or smelly discharge
- heavier or more painful periods than usual
- bleeding between periods, after sex or after the menopause.
Booklets and resources
Making your appointment
Prepare what you want to say
Before your appointment, think about what you want to tell your GP. You may want to write down some of these details:
- What is the symptom or change?
- When did it start?
- Does it follow a pattern?
- Does anything make it better or worse?
- How does it affect your day-to-day life?
You might find it helpful to take your notes with you to the appointment.
Talk and listen
When you talk to your GP, explain why you are there. Use your notes if you prepared any, and explain the symptoms in your own words.
Your GP will listen and ask questions. Answer as honestly as you can and try not to be embarrassed. Your GP often has conversations like this, and they are there to help.
Ask your GP any questions you have. Tell them if you need more information. If you do not understand something, ask them to explain it again. It can be useful to write down the answers, or make notes on your phone.
Know what will happen next
It is important that you know what will happen next. This might include:
- When you should make another appointment with your GP
- Where and when to expect an appointment with a specialist doctor or for a test
- Who to contact if you need information or more support.
Repeat it back
After your appointment
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