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Cancer symptoms

Cancer symptoms vary depending on many factors, such as the cancer type, stage, size and location. The early stages of cancer may not produce noticeable symptoms. As the disease progresses, symptoms often become more apparent.

Some general symptoms of cancer include:

  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss/gain
  • Fever
  • Pain
  • Change in appetite
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Skin changes

Many symptoms share characteristics of other, non-cancerous conditions. If you experience any persistent symptoms or other changes in your health, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible.

Specific cancer symptoms

The following are specific symptoms typically associated with certain cancer types:

  • Digestive/Gastrointestinal: Some common gastrointestinal cancer symptoms include: cramps, bloating, gas pain, changes in bowel/bladder habits, constipation, diarrhea, bloody stools, rectal bleeding, anemia, and/or jaundice. Learn more about symptoms of colorectal cancer.
  • Gynecologic: Some common gynecologic cancer symptoms include: abnormal vaginal bleeding (after menopause, between periods, following sexual intercourse), pain during intercourse, pelvic/back pain, pain on urination, and/or watery, white or pinkish vaginal discharge. Learn more about symptoms of ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, or cervical cancer.
  • Head and neck: Some common symptoms of head and neck cancers include: persistent pain, difficulty swallowing, voice changes, mouth sores, dry mouth, changes in appearance, and/or taste changes. Learn more about symptoms of head and neck cancer.
  • Hematologic: Some common hematologic cancer symptoms include: flu-like symptoms, fever, chills, joint/bone pain, anemia, night sweats, lymph node swelling, itching, persistent cough, shortness of breath, abdominal discomfort, headaches, easy bruising or bleeding, and/or frequent infections. Learn more about symptoms of leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, or multiple myeloma.
  • Skin: Some common skin cancer symptoms include: a change in a mole's size, shape, and color in the form of asymmetry, border/color irregularities or diameter (larger than 1/4 inch), itchiness, pain, and/or oozing around the affected area. Learn more about symptoms of skin cancer.
  • Lung: Some common symptoms of lung cancer include: a cough that doesn't go away, pain in the chest area, shortness of breath, hoarseness, wheezing, coughing up blood, blood in phlegm or mucus, neck or facial swelling, and/or headaches. Learn more about symptoms of lung cancer.

Diagnosing cancer

If you experience any cancer symptoms, it’s important to consult with a medical professional. A doctor will evaluate your symptoms and use diagnostic tests to first confirm the presence of disease, and then to identify the correct tumor type, location, extent and stage. An accurate cancer diagnosis helps your doctors determine a treatment approach that works for you.

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