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Cancer Signs and Symptoms

By HERWriter
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Cancer is a disease that results when abnormal cells in the body grow and multiply out of control. Cancer can occur in cells, organs, or tissues anywhere in the body.

Cancer is named for the part of the body where it originated. For example, cancer that starts in the lungs is called lung cancer. Even if lung cancer spreads into another part of the body such as the stomach, it is still called lung cancer.

Symptoms of cancer are feelings or changes in the body that you may experience if you have cancer, such as pain or a cough.

Signs of cancer are changes in your body that may be noticed by someone else, such as a fever, a lump in your breast, or abnormal sounds in your lungs that your doctor can hear through a stethoscope.

Both signs and symptoms are warnings that something is not right. Because cancer can happen anywhere in your body, there is no definitive list of all possible signs or symptoms. Ovarian cancer will produce different symptoms from brain cancer. In addition, signs and symptoms that could show that you have cancer might also mean that you have another illness. Only your healthcare provider can determine whether a symptom is caused by cancer or by something else.

These are some common cancer symptoms and signs you should watch out for:

Weight changes – People with cancer may lose weight without trying to diet. This kind of weight loss for no known reason is called unexplained weight loss. Some types of cancer can also cause unexplained weight gain.

Fever – People with cancer that has spread to another part of the body are more likely to have a fever than people with early stage cancer.

Fatigue – Feeling tired even after a good night’s sleep may be a symptom of cancer. This is more likely to be a symptom as cancer grows, but may be experienced early in cancer development for cancer like leukemia or in cancers that cause blood loss such as colon cancer.

Pain – Some types of cancer cause noticeable pain early on, such as bone cancer. Other cancers do not cause much pain unless a tumor is pushing on something and causing it to hurt. And some cancers cause general discomfort such as having a hard time swallowing or not feeling right after eating.

Skin changes – Cancer of the skin can cause changes in the specific portion of the skin where the cancer is located, such as a unusually shaped mole or a sore that won’t heal. Other kinds of cancer can cause changes in the appearance of the skin including yellow skin (jaundice), darker looking skin, or reddened skin. Other skin changes may include itching and abnormal or excessive hair growth.

Cough – Having a chronic cough that will not go away, or a cough that brings up bloody phlegm may be a sign of certain types of cancer.

Bowel changes – Changes in the consistency of your bowel movements (constipation or diarrhea), abnormal gas, blood in your stools, or general changes in how often you have a bowel movement could be symptoms of cancer.

Remember, just because you have one or more of these signs or symptoms does not necessarily mean you have cancer. But it does mean you should talk to your healthcare provider to find out what is going on and to get appropriate, early treatment to take care of it.


About.com: Cancer. Symptoms of Cancer. Lisa Fayed. Web. September 19, 2011.

American Cancer Society. Signs and Symptoms of Cancer. Web. September 19, 2011.

National Cancer Institute: What You Need to Know About Cancer. Symptoms. Web. September 19, 2011.

MedicineNet.com. Definition of Cancer Symptoms. Web. September 19, 2011.

Reviewed September 20, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.