What to look for?
Detecting cancer early in many, but not all, cases
improves the chance of being cured. Early detection can either be via a screening programmes that are available on the NHS for breast and
cervical cancer (see screening) or presenting early to your doctor should you have
any of the following signs:-
These signs don't necessarily mean you have cancer but many represent another illness - so it is important to present to your doctor.
Lumps Most breast and testicular cancers are found first by the person with the cancer or their partner. We should all become familiar with how our bodies feel and look. So when there is a change we notice it quickly. Get into the habit of feeling your breasts or testicles regularly. Notice how the skin looks and feels. Become familiar with the shape and any lumpiness that is normal for you. If there is anything unusual, go to your GP. Back to top
Coughing blood. This is an important sign. Although there are other causes lung cancer should be ruled out with investigations from your doctor. Back to top
Coughing and hoarseness
If you have a cough for more than 2 weeks, get it checked by your GP. It
will probably just be inflammation or infection. But if it is cancer, the
earlier you find out, the easier it will be to treat and possibly cure. If
there is any blood in your sputum when you cough it up, you should
definitely go to the doctor.
A hoarse voice that lasts more than 2 weeks or keeps coming back could be a sign of cancer of the larynx (voice box). It may just be laryngitis, but you should get it checked. Back to top
Moles You should see a doctor if you notice any changes to a mole such as:-
If you have a lot of moles, or moles in places that are difficult for you to
see, ask someone close to help you examine them. They will need to become
familiar with where your moles are and what they look like. It may be even
worth measuring or photographing a mole if your not sure.
You may be at high risk if you have a family history of melanoma and more than 50-100 moles. You can be put onto a mole register. You will then attend a screening clinic regularly where your moles can be examined by a doctor or specially trained nurse. Any changes can then be picked up quickly. Back to top
Bowel habits This is a case of what is normal for you. Notice how often you normally have a bowel motion and whether it is normal for you to have a looser or firmer stool. Then if your usual pattern of going to the toilet changes, see your doctor. If you are having difficulty passing stools or wanting to strain frequently then you should see your GP.
A stool that looks black, like tar, may mean that you have bleeding somewhere in your bowel. This needs checking urgently. If you notice fresh blood, it is probably piles. But it could be cancer, so you should have an examination at the GP to rule it out. Piles are normally painful or itchy, so fresh blood without either of those signs should definitely be investigated. Back to top
Bleeding Bleeding that is not a period may not be caused by cancer, but it is a sign that something is wrong and should be checked.
If you have bleeding from the back passage, you probably have piles, but it could be an early sign of a cancer.
Vaginal bleeding between periods, after sex or at any time if you are past your menopause, could be a sign of cancer of the cervix or womb. Again, there are many other more likely causes, but see your doctor to rule cancer out.
Blood in the urine could be a sign of infection. But it could be a sign of bladder or kidney cancer and so should be checked by your GP. Be aware, though, that pink or red urine can be caused by colouring in medicines or foods, or naturally coloured foods that you have eaten such as beetroot or blackberries. If you can rule those out, then go to the doctor.
If you vomit and notice blood you should tell your doctor straight away. It is most likely to be from a bleeding stomach ulcer or from irritation to the stomach lining. But it could also be cancer. Any of these need checking by a doctor.
Frequent nosebleeds are unlikely to be caused by cancer. But very rarely, this could be a sign of leukaemia, although it is unlikely to be the only sign. Back to top
Losing weight If you suddenly lose a lot of weight in a short time, when you are not dieting, then get a check up. A lot of weight means roughly 5kg or 10lbs over a couple of months (but this also depends on your normal height and weight).
Note- in most cases, these symptoms will turn out to be something other than cancer. But they are all signs of illness and so you won't be wasting your doctor's time getting them checked out. And the sooner the better.
Further general information Your doctors and specialist nurses are in an ideal position to give you relevant information on your disease and treatment as they know your individual circumstances. Cancerbackup has a help line (0808 800 1234) and a prize winning video available in English, Italian, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati & Hindi explaining Radiotherapy & Chemotherapy. Cancernet.co.uk has over 500 pages describing cancer, its management, practical tips and tool which patients, their carers and their doctors have found helpful during the cancer journey.