Signs (signals) and symptoms are ways in which the body shows that it has some discomfort, injury or disease.
A sign, such as a fever or bleeding, can be visually observed and quantified (measured) by someone else.
A symptom, such as pain and tiredness, is something that is noticeable by the person who is having it.
The signs and symptoms of cancer will depend on its location, size, and how much it may affect surrounding organs and tissues. If a cancer spreads (metastasizes), then the signs or symptoms may appear in different parts of the body.
How does cancer cause signs and symptoms?
A cancerous tumor can grow into or press on surrounding organs, blood and lymphatic vessels, and nerves. This pressure causes some of the signs and symptoms of cancer.
A cancer can also cause symptoms, such as fever, extreme tiredness, or weight loss. This may be because the cancer cells use up much of the body’s energy supply. Or the cancer could release some substance that affects the way the body makes its energy. Cancer can also cause the immune system to react in a way that causes these signs and symptoms.
What are some general signs and symptoms of cancer?
Most signs and symptoms are not caused by cancer, but may be due to other reasons. If you present any of these signs and signals after some time persist or worsen, you should see a doctor to determine the cause. If cancer is not the cause, a doctor can help determine what is and treat it if necessary.
For example, the lymph nodes are part of the body’s immune system, which help trap harmful substances that may be present. Lymph nodes are tiny and difficult to locate, but when there is infection, inflammation, or cancer, they may appear larger. Those that are close to the surface of the body could have developed enough to be felt with the fingers, and there will even be those who show a protuberance under the skin and on top of the tumor. One reason the nodes may have swollen is because the cancer may have become trapped within that region. So if you happen to have any swelling or bumps on your skin, you should see your doctor to determine what could be the cause.
Here are some of the more common signs and symptoms that could be due to cancer. However, any could be caused by other health problems as well.
Tiredness or extreme exhaustion that does not improve with rest.
Weight gain or loss consisting of 10 or more pounds for no apparent reason.
Eating problems such as not being hungry, problems swallowing or swallowing food, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.
Swelling or bumps anywhere on the body.
Hardening or a lump in the breast or anywhere in the body
Pain, especially pain that arises new and for no apparent reason, and that does not go away, but may even get worse.
Skin changes such as a bump that bleeds or has a scaly texture; a new mole or a change in a mole, ulceration that does not heal easily, or a yellowing of the surface of the eyes (jaundice).
Cough or sore throat that does not go away.
Unusual bleeding or bruising for no apparent reason.
Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea that does not go away, or any change in the appearance of the stool.
Changes in bladder habits, such as blood when urinating, or the need to urinate more often or less often.
Fever or night sweats.
Vision or hearing problems.
Changes in the mouth, such as ulcers or sores, bleeding, pain, and numbness.
The symptoms and signs mentioned above are the most common that occur with cancer, but there are many others that are not mentioned here. If you notice any major change in the way your body responds or feels, especially if it lasts for a long time or gets worse, you should tell your doctor. If it has nothing to do with cancer, your doctor can find out more about what’s going on and treat this symptom if needed. If it is cancer, you are giving yourself the opportunity to treat it early, when treatment is most effective.
Sometimes it is possible to find the cancer before you have symptoms. The American Cancer Society and other health organizations recommend cancer screening and certain tests for people even when they don’t have symptoms. This is useful for screening for certain types of cancer. You can find more information about early detection in the American Cancer Society’s Recommendations for Early Cancer Detection section.
And remember that even if you get the recommended cancer screening tests, it’s still important to see a doctor if you have any symptoms or signs associated with cancer. These signs and symptoms could indicate either cancer or another condition that requires treatment.