What are the symptoms of cancer?

You should know some of the general signs and symptoms of cancer. But remember, having any of these does not mean that you have cancer—many other things cause these signs and symptoms, too. If you have any of these symptoms and they last for a long time or get worse, please see a doctor to find out what is going on.

Unexplained weight loss: Most people with cancer will lose weight at some point. When you lose weight with no known reason, it's called an unexplained weight loss. An unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more may be the first sign of cancer. This happens most often with cancers of the pancreas, stomach, esophagus, or lung.

Fever: Fever is very common with cancer, but it more often happens after cancer has spread from where it started. Almost all patients with cancer will have fever at some time, especially if the cancer or its treatment affects the immune system. This can make it harder for the body to fight infection. Less often, fever may be an early sign of cancer, such as blood cancers like leukemia or lymphoma.

Fatigue: Fatigue is extreme tiredness that does not get better with rest. It may be an important symptom as cancer grows. It may happen early, though, in cancers like leukemia. Some colon or stomach cancers can cause blood loss. This is another way cancer can cause fatigue.

Pain: Pain may be an early symptom with some cancers like bone cancers or testicular cancer. A headache that does not go away or get better with treatment may be a symptom of a brain tumor. Back pain can be a symptom of cancer of the colon, rectum, or ovary. Most often, pain due to cancer is a symptom of cancer that has already spread from where it started (metastasized).

Skin changes: Along with cancers of the skin, some other cancers can cause skin symptoms or signs that can be seen. These signs and symptoms include:

  • Darker-looking skin (hyperpigmentation)
  • Yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Reddened skin (erythema)
  • Itching (pruritis)
  • Excessive hair growth

These signs and symptoms are the ones more commonly seen with cancer, but there are many others that are less common and are not listed here. If you notice any major changes in the way your body works or the way you feel—especially if it lasts for a long time or gets worse—let a doctor know.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.