Cancer diagnosis

Concerned about symptoms?

Have you noticed a symptom that is worrying you?

Symptoms can be funny things – they can appear suddenly or slowly and annoy us or make us worry. Sometimes we expect them to go away by themselves or we just don’t have time to investigate further. Sometimes we feel so scared about the symptom that we refuse to see a doctor about it. 

If you have a worrying symptom, it is much better to get it checked out sooner than later. You might find out it’s nothing – or something very treatable. Or you might find out it is serious. Either way, your chances of successful treatment and recovery are better if you get it checked NOW.

It is important to note that some types of cancer do not present any symptoms until they are in advanced stages. That’s why living well, cancer screening and risk assessment are also important for cancer prevention and early detection.

Although each type of cancer has its own set of characteristics, there are some cancer symptoms that are common to various types of cancer.

Persistent Tiredness

Fatigue is one of the most common cancer symptoms. You might feel tired in the early stages or if you have advanced cancer; or even if your tumour is benign. The culprit is often anaemia (iron deficiency), a condition associated with many types of cancer, especially cancers affecting the bowel.

Unintentional Weight Loss

Losing weight without trying can be a red flag for many diseases, including diabetes, hyperthyroidism malnutrition, and yes, cancer. Unintentionally losing 4kg (10lb) or more definitely warrants a visit to the doctor. This type of weight loss can happen even if you don’t have any loss of appetite.


Pain isn’t usually an early symptom of cancer, except in some cancer types like those that spread to the bone. Pain generally starts when cancer spreads and begins to affect other organs and nerves. Lower back pain can be associated with ovarian cancer and colon cancer. Shoulder pain can be a symptom of lung cancer. Headaches can be associated with brain tumours, malignant or benign. Stomach pain can be related to stomach, pancreatic or other types of cancer (although many illnesses can cause stomach pain).


A fever is a common symptom of many mild to severe conditions, including cancer. In relation to cancer, a fever that is persistent or one that comes and goes frequently can signal stress on the immune system. Fevers are more commonly associated with cancers that affect the blood, like leukemia and lymphoma, or if the cancer has metastasized (spread to other parts of the body).

Bowel Changes

If you experience constipation, diarrhea, blood in the stools, gas, thinner stools, or just a general overall change in bowel habits, see your doctor. These symptoms are most commonly associated with colon cancer, but are also related to other cancer types.

Chronic Cough

A cough that won’t go away or becomes worse needs to be checked out by a doctor. Blood and/or mucus may accompany the cough and can be caused by many conditions, including cancer.

Keep in mind that these are very general symptoms of cancer and many other types of illness. The symptoms listed above are experienced by many people with cancer at various stages of the disease, but are also linked to many other non-cancerous conditions. If you have a couple of these symptoms, it’s not necessarily cancer; it’s a message that you should see your doctor to run some tests.

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