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A Full-Body Guide to Spotting Cancer

A change in your body is one of the first markers of an underlying issue. Here are early signs and symptoms of cancer.

About two out of five people will be diagnosed with cancer at some time in their life. As cancer is the second-leading cause of death worldwide, it is essential to know the signs and symptoms. Detecting cancer early optimizes the chances of recovery.

Because cancer can affect almost every part of your body, it’s important to monitor your entire body for unexplained changes that could be a result of cancer. With the information provided by, this guide offers a detailed list of the symptoms to look out for.

If you notice these symptoms or anything else abnormal, don't ignore it! Detecting a sign or symptom early is only valuable if it leads to a timely medical evaluation and treatment. If you have any concerning symptoms, see a healthcare provider right away.

To detect cancer early, look out for these signs and symptoms:

Abnormal Bleeding: Bleeding is abnormal when it comes from the nipples, penis, or a mole or scab that hasn’t been scratched. It’s also abnormal when it comes from coughing, vomiting, or spitting. Frequent nosebleeds, unexplained bruises, and unexplained bleeding from the vagina can also be signs of cancer.

Changes in Fingernails and Toenails: Changes to your nails or the area around the nails can be a sign of cancer. This can include weakness, brittleness, thickening, bleeding, infection, swelling, redness, ridges, bumps, or a change in color or shape.

Chronic Fatigue or Weakness: If you’re feeling exhausted, fatigued, or weak despite getting enough sleep, it could be a symptom of cancer.

Continuous Swelling or Bloating: Constant swelling near a joint or in the legs, arms, face, throat or neck can be a sign of cancer. Bloating or hardness of the abdomen that does not go away with a change in diet or after a bowel movement is also a cause for concern. Other symptoms can include cramps, gas, or pain in the abdomen; a subtle tickle, scratch, or burning in the throat, and regurgitating food.

Coughing: Some types of cancer can cause persistent or painful coughing. Speak to your doctor if you have a cough that lasts more than three weeks, or if you feel a sharp pain in the chest, back or shoulder when coughing.

Breathing Difficulties: Cancer may cause you to feel breathless from very minimal activity, or even when lying down. You may feel pain when taking a deep breath. Another sign is respiratory infections that keep coming back.

Ear Changes: Look out for scaly patches, white lumps under the skin, or discharge from your ear. Hearing loss, earache, and a ringing sound in the ears are also symptoms to watch for.

Eye changes: Changes in the appearance of your eye can indicate cancer. Look for bulging or growths on the eye or eyelid. Dark or flesh-like spots on the iris, yellowing of the eye, floats in the eye, and changes in the size or shape of the pupil are also signs. Also watch for pain, changes in the way the eye moves, excessive tearing, or sudden onset of double vision or pain. Other suspicious changes to your eyesight can include shadows, flashes of light, wiggly lines, or blurred vision.

Heavy Night Sweats: If you frequently wake up with your nightwear and sheets drenched with sweat, talk to a doctor.

Heartburn and Indigestion: Frequent heartburn, upset stomach, or uncomfortable fullness after meals can be caused by cancer.

Low-Grade Fever: Look out for a consistent temperature above 100.4ºF (38ºC) for more than two weeks.

Lymph Nodes: Look out for a painless enlargement or lump on the head, neck, armpit, groin, or backs of the knees – especially if there has been no infection.

Nipple Changes: Check for tenderness, inflammation, lumps, skin texture changes, or a rash. Look for a change in the size or shape of a breast or nipple, especially if it’s only on one side. Also, check for breast tissue dimples or wrinkles when stretching your arms or flexing your chest muscles. Persistent pain in the breast or under the armpit can also be a symptom.

Non-Stop Itching: See a doctor if you have intense or uncontrollable itching that is not relieved by lotions or antihistamines – especially at night or after a warm bath or hot shower.

Mouth, Tongue, and Throat: Changes in the appearance of the mouth, tongue, or throat are potential signs of cancer. Look for changes in color, or for a bump or swelling. Changes in how your teeth line up, trouble opening the mouth, pain, or excess saliva can also be caused by cancer.

Scrotum and Testicle Changes: Suspicious changes in the testicles can include pain or discomfort, enlargement, unexpected firmness, or the presence of a lump or swelling (usually not painful). Symptoms in the scrotum can also include pain, discomfort, enlargement, a feeling of heaviness, or a sudden collection of fluid within the scrotum. A dull ache in the lower abdomen or in the groin, erection difficulty, or a decrease in ejaculation fluid can also be symptoms of cancer.

Severe Headache: Headaches have many causes, but some can be symptoms of cancer. If your headaches are more intense than normal or continue for more than two weeks (even when using over-the-counter painkillers), it could be a symptom. Look for dizziness, light-headedness, memory loss, confusion, or mood changes. Also watch for head pain when coughing, exercising, getting up, or moving.

Skin Changes: Check your moles, freckles, birthmarks, and other body markings for any ABCDE changes.

A – Asymmetrical: The two halves of the mole differ from each other

B – Border: Rough, uneven edges

C – Color: Multiple colors in the same patch or mole

D – Diameter: Larger than a pencil eraser (1/4 inches or 6 millimeters)

E – Evolving: Any new symptoms, including bleeding, itching, or crusting

Swallowing Issues/Hoarseness: Look out for pain in the tongue, jaw, or throat (may worsen when swallowing food). In adults, hoarseness or voice pitch changes that last more than two weeks can also be a sign. In addition, if you feel like something is pressing on your throat or stuck in your windpipe, this can also indicate cancer.

Thyroid Gland: Bulging or protrusion of the thyroid gland can indicate cancer. The thyroid gland is located just below the Adam’s apple.

Tumors, Lumps, Masses, or Bumps: Any growth or unexplained bulges on the body can be an indication of cancer. Swelling or expansion of an existing lump is also something to be suspicious about.

Unexplained Falls: If you experience dizziness, fainting, or loss of balance, this can be a sign of cancer. Similarly, trouble walking can also be a sign.

Unexplained Pain: Cancer-caused pain can happen in many parts of the body, including the abdomen, rectum, groin, face, joints and bones, shoulders, back, chest, lower legs, under the rib cage, or under the breastbone. Pain during intercourse, when coughing, or when flexing your toes upward can also be a sign of cancer.

Unexplained Weight Changes: Unexpected weight loss or weight gain, especially when associated with bloating, can be caused by cancer.

Urine or Stool Changes: Any change to your normal pattern of urine or bowel movements can be a symptom of cancer. Look for changes in the appearance of your stool or urine, or for blood in your stool, urine, or rectum. Frequent diarrhea or constipation, changes in bladder control, or pain or discomfort are also potential warning signs.

What to Do If You Notice a Sign or Symptom of Cancer

If you notice any of the signs or symptoms described above, it's important to see a medical professional right away. Early detection is key in maximizing your chances of recovery. Talk to your doctor or visit WellNow Urgent Care to be seen by a qualified healthcare provider right away.