Cancer Symptoms

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on March 03, 2022
3 min read

No matter your age or health, it’s good to know the possible signs of cancer. By themselves, they aren’t enough to diagnose the disease. But they can be clues for you and your doctor so that you can find and treat the problem as soon as possible. Treatment works best early on, when a tumor is small and hasn’t spread.

These symptoms don’t always mean cancer. Lots of common conditions can make you feel this way. It’s important to see your doctor so they can take a closer look at your health and take action.

Common signs and symptoms of cancer in both men and women include:

  • Pain. Bone cancer often hurts from the beginning. Some brain tumors cause headaches that last for days and don’t get better with treatment. Pain can also be a late sign of cancer, so see a doctor if you don't know why it’s happening or it doesn’t go away.
  • Weight loss without trying. Almost half of people who have cancer lose weight. It’s often one of the signs that they notice first.
  • Fatigue. If you’re tired all the time and rest doesn’t help, tell your doctor. Leukemia often wears you out, or you could have blood loss from colon or stomach cancer. Cancer-related weight loss can leave you exhausted, too.
  • Fever. If it’s high or lasts more than 3 days, call your doctor. Some blood cancers, like lymphoma, cause a fever for days or even weeks.
  • Changes in your skin. Have your doctor look at unusual or new moles, bumps, or marks on your body to be sure skin cancer isn’t lurking. Your skin can also provide clues to other kinds of cancers. If it’s darkened, looks yellow or red, itches, or sprouts more hair, or if you have an unexplained rash, it could be a sign of liver, ovarian, or kidney cancer or lymphoma.
  • Sores that don’t heal. Spots that bleed and won’t go away are also signs of skin cancer. Oral cancer can start as sores in your mouth. If you smoke, chew tobacco, or drink a lot of alcohol, you’re at higher risk.
  • Cough or hoarseness that doesn’t go away. A cough is one sign of lung cancer, and hoarseness may mean cancer of your voice box (larynx) or thyroid gland.
  • Unusual bleeding. Cancer can make blood show up where it shouldn’t be. Blood in your poop is a symptom of colon or rectal cancer. And tumors along your urinary tract can cause blood in your urine.
  • Anemia. This is when your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells, which are made in your bone marrow. Cancers like leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma can damage your marrow. Tumors that spread there from other places might crowd out regular red blood cells.

The most common cancers in men are prostate, lung, and colorectal.

Symptoms of cancer in men include:

Trouble peeing: A swollen prostate can make it hard to go, or it may make you have to go a lot. Tell your doctor if you have pain when you pee or blood in your urine.

A lump, pain, or ache in your scrotum. These might mean testicular cancer.

The types that affect women most are breast, lung, and colorectal cancer. Women can also have cancer of the uterus, endometrium, cervix, vagina, or vulva.

Watch out for:

Vaginal bleeding or discharge: Get checked out if it happens between periods or after menopause. Endometrial cancer can make you bleed when you don't expect it.

Changes in appetite: Ovarian cancer can make you feel full or make it hard to eat. Other cancers can cause indigestion or nausea. Cancer isn’t the only illness that changes your appetite, but check with your doctor if you’ve had trouble eating for 2 weeks or longer.

Belly pain and bloating: In most cases, you feel gassy, crampy, and bloated because of something minor. Talk to your doctor if you have these types of symptoms and they don’t go away.          

Breast changes: Tell the doctor if:

  • Your breasts feel different.
  • You find lumps.
  • You notice sudden changes in size.
  • You have discharge from your nipples.
  • You see spots or other changes in the skin around your nipples.

Show Sources


American Cancer Society: “Signs and Symptoms of Cancer,” “Signs and Symptoms of Testicular Cancer.”

Cancer.Net: “Weight Loss.”

Mayo Clinic: “7 Signs and Symptoms Not To Ignore,” “Colon Cancer,” “Liver Cancer.”

American Academy of Dermatology: “Skin can show first signs of some internal diseases.”

CDC: “Cancer Among Men,” “Cancer Among Women.”

University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center: “10 cancer symptoms men shouldn't ignore,” “10 cancer symptoms women shouldn’t ignore.”

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Male Reproductive Cancers Fact Sheet,” “Female Reproductive Cancers Fact Sheet.”

Ovarian Cancer Research Fund: “Ovarian Cancer Signs and Symptoms.”

American Society of Clinical Oncology: “Anemia.”

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