Signs and symptoms of cancer
It's important to be aware of any unexplained changes to your body, such as the sudden appearance of a lump, blood in your urine or a change to your usual bowel habits.
These symptoms are often caused by other, non-cancerous illnesses, but it's important to see your GP so they can investigate.
Other potential signs and symptoms of cancer are outlined below.
Lump in your breast
See your GP if you notice a lump in your breast, or if you have a lump that's rapidly increasing in size elsewhere on your body.
Your GP will refer you to a specialist for tests if they think you may have cancer.
Coughing, chest pain and breathlessness
Visit your GP if you've had a cough for more than three weeks.
Symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain may be a sign of an acute (severe) condition, such as pneumonia. See your GP straight away if you experience these types of symptoms.
Changes in bowel habits
See your GP if you've experienced one of the changes listed below and it's lasted for more than a few weeks:
- blood in your stools
- diarrhoea or constipation for no obvious reason
- a feeling of not having fully emptied your bowels after going to the toilet
- pain in your abdomen (stomach) or your anus (back passage)
- persistent bloating
You should also see your GP if you have any unexplained bleeding, such as:
- blood in your urine
- bleeding between periods
- blood from your back passage
- blood when you cough
- blood in your vomit
See your GP if you have a mole that:
- has an irregular or asymmetrical shape
- has an irregular border with jagged edges
- has more than one colour (it may be flecked with brown, black, red, pink or white)
- is bigger than 7mm in diameter
- is itchy, crusting or bleeding
Any of the above changes means there's a chance you have malignant melanoma (skin cancer).
Unexplained weight loss
You should also see your GP if you have lost a lot of weight over the last couple of months that can't be explained by changes to your diet, exercise or stress.
The following links have more useful information about cancer.
Macmillan: signs and symptoms of cancer
Cancer Research UK: cancer symptoms checker
NICE guidance: referral for suspected cancer
If your GP suspects cancer
If your GP suspects cancer, they'll refer you to a specialist (usually within two weeks).
The specialist will carry out further tests, such as a biopsy or X-ray, and plan any necessary treatment.
Read more about waiting times for cancer referrals and treatment.
Find out how to deal with a cancer diagnosis and where to find support, and watch a video about one man's experience
Page last reviewed: 03/09/2014
Next review due: 03/09/2016