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What are the initial Signs and Symptoms of Cancer?

Updated on January 27, 2017

Symptoms of Cancer Metastasis


A -Normal cell division vs. B -Cancer cell division


What is a Cancer?

Cancer is a group of diseases resulting from abnormal cell division. Normally in our body the cells or the smallest functioning units of the body multiply in an organised manner keeping only the required number of new cells and removing the damaged or old cells by certain biological processes.

In cancer the cells do not multiply in this organised fashion resulting in an excessive and uncontrolled growth of cells which are sometimes capable of invading the surrounding tissues. Some of them may remain inside a capsule like structure and cause pressure on the surrounding tissues whereas some can invade the surrounding structures like the fingers of a crab. The first category of tumours is mostly benign and will not come back once it is removed. The second category is called cancerous tumours and they can invade the surrounding structures as well as spread to the distant parts of the body through blood or lymph. When it is spread to the distant parts of the body, it is called metastasis and the symptoms of cancer may show additional features of the body part involved.

What are Signs and Symptoms?

Symptoms of cancer are to be inquired from the person reporting the discomfort. In other words, a symptom is felt or experienced by the patient and is often measured as reported by the patient. Where as a sign is something which can be seen, felt or elicited by doctors and nurses. The doctor cannot reach at a conclusion only by looking at the symptoms that these are symptoms of cancer. For example breathing difficulty and fever may very well indicate pneumonia or could be the earliest symptoms of lungs cancer. So the doctor may advise a chest x-ray in the beginning and if there are signs indicative of cancer, a few more investigations may be advised to rule out or confirm a cancer.

Breast cancer - Symptoms and treatment

What are some of the Common Symptoms of Cancer?

We will discuss here some of the common symptoms of cancer. But don’t get panicky if you have any of these problems. As I discussed earlier, these symptoms may not always indicate a cancer. It could very well be due to some other illnesses.

Unexplained Weight Loss

This is one of the very important symptoms of cancer. Please note that the weight loss is unexplained or you cannot exactly figure out why you have lost weight recently. If you have lost around 5 kg of weight recently for no obvious reasons, please consult a doctor.

Weight loss as a symptom of cancer could be because of the tumour eating up most of the energy supplied to the body and utilised for its growth. There is also a possibility that the body’s immune system releases some chemicals in order to suppress the growth of tumour which in turn causes weight loss.

Unexplained weight loss is a common symptom in cancers of the pancreas, stomach, oesophagus and lung.

Symptoms of Leukemia


Fatigue or Extreme Tiredness

On a routine day any one of us feels tired by the end of the day. But a good shower, a nap or may be a good drink will refresh us. Fatigue as a symptom of cancer is different from the usual tiredness we feel. Here the tiredness is not relieved by rest or sleep. Patient describes fatigue as feeling worn out or exhausted. A person’s physical, emotional and cognitive domains can be affected by fatigue. People can become irritated, angry and short tempered and depressed because of fatigue. Blood loss and anaemia in some types of cancers may contribute to fatigue. Although fatigue is one of the important symptoms of cancer, it can be seen in other diseases as well.

A Sore that does not Heal

This is one of the important symptoms of cancer. If you have the habit of chewing tobacco and if you notice a sore inside the mouth, it should be checked by a doctor. Many forms of chewable tobacco are available everywhere in India and our youths are getting habituated to using chewable forms of tobacco. In this context, the knowledge about these warning signs becomes important.

A non-healing sore on the skin, penis and vagina may also be an early sign of cancer and should be shown to a doctor.


White Patches on the Cheek or Tongue

This is called leukoplakia and is a precancerous condition. Leukoplakia is commonly seen in people who use chewable forms of tobacco and people who smoke and drink. It can also occur if the edges of your teeth are sharp and if it constantly irritates your cheek.

Unusual Bleeding or Discharge

Unusual bleeding or discharge is another important sign of cancer. Bleeding can be from vagina in case of cancer of cervix or cancer of endometrium. Blood tinged sputum may indicate lung cancer although other diseases like tuberculosis and bronchiectasis can produce blood tinged sputum.

Blood in the stool may indicate colon cancer or rectal cancer. Blood in the urine may indicate a kidney cancer or bladder cancer although it can occur in other diseases like nephritis. Blood discharge from the nipple could be a sign of breast cancer.

Symptoms of Breast Cancer


Thickening or Lump

A thickening or lump is often felt by the patient while taking bath or accidentally. This is again an important cancer symptom. The lump will often be hard to touch, immovable and painless. It should be shown to the doctor as early as possible.

Lump occurs most commonly in the breast, testicles, lymph nodes and soft tissues of the body. The numbers of breast cancer cases are on the rise in India. It stands next to cervical cancer in incidence. All lumps felt on the breast may not be a cancer. As we discussed in the beginning, some of them can be due to benign breast diseases. But it is important to get it checked by a doctor as soon as you notice it.

Difficulty in Swallowing

A swallowing difficulty may indicate a cancer of the throat, oesophagus (food pipe), stomach or pharynx. If you notice a progressive swallowing difficulty and weight loss, consult the doctor as early as possible.

Plantar Warts


Recent Change in Wart or Mole.

A wart is a rough and raised skin lesion usually seen on the hands. It is caused by a virus and goes by itself or can be treated with cryotherapy (using liquid nitrogen spray). If you notice a sudden growth or change in the colour or shape of wart it should be immediately notified to the doctor.

A mole is also usually a harmless lesion, slightly raised and darker than the surrounding skin. A sudden change in the appearance of mole also could be a sign of cancer. But if these cancers are detected and treatedearly, the result is good.

A Nagging Cough

A nagging cough that does not go away may very well indicate diseases like bronchitis or tuberculosis. But there is also a high possibility of lung cancer. Lung cancers are of different types. They are usually detected only at an advanced stage, after the tumour grows to a considerable level and sometimes even after invading the distant organs. So if you notice fever and continuous cough, please consult a doctor immediately.

Lung Cancer Symptoms & Warning Signs


Fever is very common with cancer patients. Fever is a late consequence of less immunity due to cancer or its treatment. It can also be an early sign of blood cancers like leukaemia or lymphoma.


Pain is most often a late symptom of cancer. A cancerous lump in the breast is painless in the beginning. Pain typically occurs once the cancer has spread to the other organs of the body. But it can be an early symptom in cancers of the bone or testicle. Back pain is common in cancer of the colon, rectum or ovary and headache could be a symptom of brain cancer.

What to do if you find these Signs and Symptoms?

The treatment for cancer is advanced and some of the cancers are now treatable. The results of treatment are very good if it is treated at an early stage. There comes the importance of awareness about these signs and symptoms of cancer.

For example cancer of the breast, even though on the increase, is a treatable cancer most often and the prognosis is good if treated early. In India, breast cancer patients reach the treatment facility at an advanced stage probably because they are shy or because the health of the women takes a back seat in many households.

As you know, the symptoms listed above are not always symptoms of cancer. This article attempts to make you aware that these signs could possibly be the signs and symptoms of cancer. If you see any of your friends or near ones having one of the abovementioned signs and symptoms let a doctor know it.


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    • techygran profile image


      3 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Nicely presented hub with excellent information highlighted about a multi-faceted subject. Voted you up and pinned, shared.

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      4 years ago from India

      Hi Pro-Hubber

      Thanks for validating this hub

    • Pro-Hubber profile image


      4 years ago from Florida

      Very informative and very interesting hub, the sad thing about cancer is you never know the signs and symptoms until the cancer is advanced. so, basically in cancer stage 3 and 4 patient has a very less chance of survival. Its very advisable to have an annual medical check up.. specially for cancer. :)

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      5 years ago from India

      This comes as quite a shock to me. I guess we all have to deal with our share of politicians...

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      5 years ago from North Texas

      Well, no offense, but your impression is wrong. 50,000 people die every year in this country because they have no access to healthcare. That has been true for many years now. Republican governors in several states have refused to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare so that death statistic may not improve much once ObamaCare is fully in force.

      Most of the working poor do not qualify for Medicaid. To qualify one must have a chronic disorder/disease, be 60 years old or older, be pregnant, or have children they are responsible for living in their home under age 18. Many people do not meet any of this criteria.

      Jobs that pay minimum wage won't even pay regular expenses such as rent, electricity, transportation, communication, and food. Health insurance on top of those regular expenses is totally out of reach for many people.

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      5 years ago from India

      Hi Au fait

      Thanks for the visit and comment. Very sorry to hear about your former husband.

      In India there is always overcrowding at the few government hospitals where they treat cancer patients. I was under the impression that everything is okay in the States.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      5 years ago from North Texas

      Especially appreciate your explanation of what cancer is, what metastasizing of cancer is, and how it can travel through the body to new locations. I have studied these things before, but many people are confused about these things and hopefully this article will help clarify many things for them.

      Here in the states people who have no money or good insurance will often not get the treatment that would save their lives. It would seem that someone has decided that we already have too many people living in poverty. My former husband is dying from cancer right now because they refuse to treat him for the reasons stated.

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      5 years ago from India

      Hi ImKarn23 ,

      I am amazed at your positive attitude and how you can laugh even after seeing those horrible things!!!

      Thanks for the visit

    • ImKarn23 profile image

      Karen Silverman 

      5 years ago

      i HATE cancer..(i know...who doesn't..)

      but really - i've had enough for quite a while. Some cancers are almost undetectable - until it's as good as too late..

      my sister had a high grade 'sarcoma' - a type of cancer that imbeds itself it the muscle tissue, can show up anywhere - and usually isn't found until it appears on a chest x-ray..

      i've just experienced peeing blood - for SIX weeks - as i went for test after test - with google only indicating VERY nasty things..

      AND - my cousin just went through a year of chemo, Surgery, chemo - after being diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer that had metastasized to her liver..


      we;re all fine, thank you

      (sigh and lol)

      gotta laugh, eh?

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      5 years ago from India

      Hi cuttler

      Thanks for the visit

    • cuttler profile image


      5 years ago from HubPages

      Great article and very informative too. If only there was a cure to cancer. For now early detection is the best way to start fighting cancer. Thank you for sharing this with us.

      Voted up and shared as useful and awesome

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Hi vinner,

      Thanks for the kind words

    • vinner profile image


      6 years ago from India

      Surely helpful article. Cancer can be cured if it is detected in first stage itself. Thanks for sharing the symptoms. You are writing useful articles. Waiting for more

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Hi Rosika,

      Thank you for the visit and comment

    • rosika profile image


      6 years ago

      With the increasing number of cancer all around the disease, it is very good hub to inform the reader about this disease which hopefully will help in the reduction of habits that might increase the chance of getting cancer...good hub..voted up!

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Hi Dr. Ope,

      Glad to meet you!

      I know that it is not a very palatable topic. But it is essential to have awareness about it in case anyone needs help

      Thanks for the visit

    • Dr.Ope profile image

      Olive Ellis 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for the wealth of information thumbi7. Just thinking about cancer gives me the creep!

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      @Brett. Tesol,

      Hi, Thanks for the visit and sharing.

      Tobacco chewing is a big problem in India.

      Chewable tobacco is available anywhere in India without any restrictions.

      So the incidence of tobacco related cancers are more.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 

      6 years ago from Thailand

      A very informative hub, definitely SHARING this one. I never knew about the tobacco chewing, although I had seen it, I didn't realize it causes cancer.

      Up and useful.

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India


      Thanks for the visit

    • one2get2no profile image

      Philip Cooper 

      6 years ago from Olney

      Very Informative hub. Thank you..

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Hi Dahlia,

      I am glad that you found this information useful.

      Thanks for the visit

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Hi jpcmc,

      There was a paper report on 9.8 lakh new cases of cancer reported in India in 2010.

      I thought of writing this hub after reading that report.

      There is an urgent need to educate maximum number of people on these warning signs as many cancers are treatable in the initial stages.

      Thanks for your visit.

    • Dahlia Flower profile image

      Dahlia Flower 

      6 years ago from Canada

      It's nice that you've prepared this hub because it's so easy for us to read, understand and remember when it's all in one place like this. It's important information. Voted up and interesting.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 

      6 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Hello thumbi7. This hub is really a concise treasure cove of cancer info. It’s really important that people are aware of cancer symptoms. Many cancer patients learn too late because they misinterpret the signs and symptoms. This is truly worth sharing. Voted up!

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India


      Thanks for your visit and comment

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      @kevins blog

      Sorry to hear about your loss.

      I am glad that this hub was useful to you.

    • Ruchira profile image


      6 years ago from United States

      wow..this sure is a condensed research. well done, thumbi7. This is such a scary disease and I dread it. thanks still for the information.

    • kevins blog52 profile image

      kevins blog52 

      6 years ago from southern Indiana

      I have always wondered about cancer,and how it affected you, my dad and most of my family as had or died from it.Thank you for the read thumbi7, I voted up and useful.

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India


      Thanks for your time reading the hub:)

      Cancer is everywhere now.

      Doctors encourage people to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, to exercise and to lead a healthy lifestyle to reduce its incidence.

    • heart4theword profile image


      6 years ago from hub

      Never have seen any information about signs of cancer inside a persons mouth before? Knew about white blood cells, yet didn't know about the cell divisions relating to cancer. Really haven't studied about this subject much...yet have come to understand cancer as a inflammatory disease. Have witnessed the difference of eating more healthy, live the reduction of a mass. How herbs can help with the health of your body in many ways:) Thanks for the information and research you did take the time to do:) Have a great week!


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