Signs and symptoms of cancer

It is important to know the common signs and symptoms of cancer. If you have any of the symptoms listed here, please see your GP.

When to see your GP about symptoms

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.

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How to recognise the symptoms of cancer

Know your body

If you know your body and what is normal for you, it will help you to be aware of any changes. People sometimes think a change in their body is not worth bothering their GP about. Or they may feel embarrassed talking about it.

But if you notice a change in how you feel or how your body works, it is better to be safe and get it checked.

Always see your GP if you have symptoms that are ongoing, unexplained or unusual for you.

Ongoing symptoms

If you have a symptom that lasts for more than 3 weeks, see your GP. This might be a cough that does not go away, a change in bowel habits, a mouth ulcer that does not heal, or feeling bloated most days.

Unexplained symptoms

This means a symptom that does not have an obvious cause. For example, having a lump or bleeding without any injury.

Symptoms that are unusual for you

This means a change in your body that is not normal for you. It could be a change in a cough you have had for a long time, a change to a mole, new unexplained bleeding or a change in the skin on your breast.

Having any of these symptoms does not usually mean you have cancer, but it is sensible to speak to your GP. The cause of the symptoms is probably nothing to worry about, but it could be a sign of something that needs treatment.

If it is cancer, the sooner it is found, the more likely it is to be cured. And if it’s nothing serious, your GP can tell you not to worry.

If you have already been to your GP but the symptoms have not gone away, it is important to see them again in a week or so.

Symptoms to watch for

If you have any of the symptoms listed here, see your GP. You are not wasting their time and it is important to get these symptoms checked.

General symptoms

  • Unexplained bleeding

    Any unexplained bleeding is a sign that something might be wrong. You should always get this checked by your GP. This can include blood in your pee, poo, spit or vomit. For women, it also includes vaginal bleeding in between periods, after sex or after the menopause.

  • Lumps

    If you notice an unexplained lump or swelling anywhere on your body, see your GP. It can be useful to tell them how long it has been there and if it is getting bigger or causes discomfort.

  • Pain

    If you have a new, unexplained pain anywhere in your body that lasts for 3 weeks or more, see your GP to get it checked.

  • Extreme tiredness

    Tell your GP if you have been feeling more tired (fatigued) than usual for some time, with no obvious reason.

  • Night sweats

    Some infections can cause night sweats and some women have them when they are going through the menopause. But if you have severe night sweats that drench your bed clothes, you should get them checked by your GP. 

Symptoms that affect how you eat

  • Trouble swallowing

    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.

  • Weight loss

    If you have lost weight without trying to and it cannot be explained by changes in your diet or exercise, tell your GP

  • Indigestion and heartburn

    You may get indigestion or heartburn after eating a large, spicy meal. But you should see your GP if you get a lot of heartburn or indigestion, or if it is very painful.

Bladder and bowel symptoms

  • Bloating

    If you feel bloated (having a swollen tummy) most of the time, talk to your GP so they can check it for you.

  • Change in bowel habit

    Lots of things can cause looser poo or diarrhoea, but if it lasts for 3 weeks or more you should talk to your GP.

  • Problems peeing

    Talk to your GP if you have any problems peeing, such as needing to pee suddenly, or pain when you pee.

Symptoms that affect your speech or breathing

  • An ongoing cough

    Tell your GP if you have a cough that has lasted for more than 3 weeks, or if it gets worse.

  • Breathlessness

    It is normal to be out of breath sometimes. But you should talk to your GP if you are breathless for no reason or it is getting worse.

  • Hoarse voice

    You may get a hoarse voice if you have a cold, but if it lasts longer than 3 weeks you should get it checked by your GP.

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.

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