Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms


The earliest sign of breast cancer is usually an abnormality detected on a mammogram before it can be felt by the woman or a health care professional. Larger tumors may become evident as a painless mass.  Less common symptoms include persistent changes to the breast, such as thickening, swelling, distortion, tenderness, skin irritation, scaliness, or nipple abnormalities such as ulceration, retraction, or spontaneous discharge. Typically, breast pain results from benign conditions and is not an early symptom of breast cancer.

Colon and Rectum

Screening is necessary to detect colorectal cancer in its early stages.  Advanced disease may cause rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, a change in bowel habits, and cramping pain in the lower abdomen.


Symptoms may include fatigue, paleness, weight loss, repeated infections, fever, bruising easily, and nosebleeds or other haemorrhages.  In children, these signs can appear suddenly.  Chronic leukaemia can progress slowly with few symptoms.


Symptoms may include persistent cough, sputum streaked with blood, chest pain, voice change, and recurrent pneumonia or bronchitis.


Symptoms may include swollen lymph nodes, itching, night sweats, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, and intermittent fever.


The most common sign is enlargement of the abdomen, which is caused by accumulation of fluid.  Abnormal vaginal bleeding occurs rarely.  In women older than 40, persistent digestive disturbances (stomach discomfort, gas, distention) may indicate the need for an evaluation for ovarian cancer.  Recent research has suggested that urinary symptoms may be another sign of ovarian cancer.


Cancer of the pancreas often develops without early symptoms which, when present, can include weight loss, discomfort in the abdomen, and occasionally glucose intolerance.  Tumors that develop near the common bile duct may cause a blockage that leads to jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes due to pigment accumulation).  Sometimes this symptom allows the tumor to be diagnosed at an early stage.


Early prostate cancer usually has no symptoms.  With more advanced disease, individuals may experience weak or interrupted urine flow; inability to urinate or difficulty starting or stopping the urine flow; the need to urinate frequently, especially at night; blood in the urine; or pain or burning with urination. Continual pain in the lower back, pelvis, or upper thighs may be an indication of metastatic disease.  Many of these symptoms, however, are similar to those caused by benign conditions.


Important warning signs of melanoma include changes in size, shape, or colour of skin lesion or the appearance of a new growth on the skin.  Changes that occur over a few days are generally innocuous but changes that progress over a month or more should be evaluated by your doctor.  Basal cell carcinomas may appear as flat, firm, pale areas or as small, raised, pink or red, translucent, shiny areas that may bleed following minor injury.  Squamous cell cancer may appear as growing lumps, often with a rough surface, or as flat, reddish patches that grow slowly.  Another sign of basal and squamous cell skin cancers is a sore that doesn’t heal.


Symptoms may include blood in the urine and increased frequency of urination.


Symptoms usually do not appear until abnormal cervical cells become cancerous and invade nearby tissue.  When this happens, the most common symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding.  Bleeding may start and stop between regular menstrual periods, or it may occur after sexual intercourse, douching, or a pelvic exam.  Menstrual bleeding may last longer and be heavier than usual.  Bleeding after menopause or increased vaginal discharge may also be symptoms.


Abnormal uterine bleeding or spotting is a frequent early sign.  Pain and systemic symptoms are late signs.