Cancer signs and symptoms

Cancer signs and symptoms

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Often, the first symptoms of cancer or malignant tumors appear relatively early, but these can also occur in connection with other diseases and are therefore often not recognized as signs of cancer. Due to the large number of different types of cancer, the spectrum of these symptoms is extremely broad. However, some complaints, such as chronic fatigue or significant weight loss, can be observed in many of these types of cancer, so that they are generally regarded as possible warning signs of cancer.

Increasing signs of cancer

In order to provide a better overview, the multitude of possible cancer signs will be assigned to six groups in the next section. We differentiate here "Unspecific general symptoms", „Discomfort in the digestive tract and abdomen, „Respiratory symptoms", „Symptoms in the head area and at the neurological level ", "Signs of women-specific cancer" such as "More symptoms of cancer. The list is by no means entitled to a complete compilation of all conceivable cancer symptoms, but rather focuses on the complaints that are to be ascertained.

Nonspecific cancer symptoms

Many cancer symptoms can also be observed in harmless other diseases, so that those affected often do not associate them with a possible cancer. These rather unspecific signs of cancer often appear at a very early stage of cancer. If they are interpreted correctly and a corresponding early diagnosis is made, there are often still relatively good treatment opportunities here. Non-specific warning signals include, for example, a significant reduction in performance or a persistent feeling of weakness and chronic fatigue. They appear as accompanying symptoms in a whole range of cancers. The examples range from bone marrow cancer (multiple myeloma) to colon cancer, kidney cancer, leukemia (blood cancer) and ovarian cancer (ovarian cancer) to Hodgkin's lymphoma or breast cancer in the late stage.

Just because someone is increasingly tired and their performance is reduced does not mean that they have cancer. But in case of doubt, a visit to the doctor cannot harm, especially since other possible causes of the symptoms are also checked. This applies similarly to a significant weight loss not based on a diet. This is also increasingly observed in bone marrow cancer, colon cancer (especially small bowel cancer and duodenal cancer), kidney cancer, leukemia and Hodgkin lymphoma. Other examples of cancer that can be associated with significant weight loss are carcinomas of the gallbladder (gallbladder carcinoma / bile duct carcinoma), the pancreas (pancreatic head carcinoma) or the liver (hepatocellular carcinoma) as well as esophageal cancer and malignant tumors of the pleura (pleurisy). Weight loss is often linked to the persistent loss of appetite of those affected.

If you see reduced performance, fatigue and weight loss in parallel, a visit to the doctor is strongly recommended. This applies all the more if additional complaints such as night sweats or fever are added. For example, they can occur in gallbladder or biliary carcinoma, leukemia, Hodgkin's lymphoma and kidney cancer. Bronchial carcinomas (lung cancer) are also increasingly accompanied by fever. An unspecific accompanying symptom that can also be found in several different types of cancer is an unpleasant itching of the skin. This also occurs increasingly in gallbladder and biliary carcinoma, leukemia and Hodgkin lymphoma.

Lymph node swellings can also be regarded as non-specific signs of cancer, which can be observed, for example, in leukemia, thyroid cancer or nasopharyngeal cancer (nasopharyngeal cancer). In addition, many sufferers show a generally increased susceptibility to infection, which is often not initially associated with a possible cancer. The more of the non-specific symptoms mentioned, the higher the likelihood that cancer is actually the trigger. However, a number of other causes of the complaints remain conceivable, which must be checked as part of a medical examination.

Discomfort in the digestive tract and abdomen

The possible cancer symptoms in the digestive tract are extremely extensive and often resemble those of a simple gastrointestinal infection. As a result, those affected do not usually think of cancer here either. In particular, if the symptoms persist for an unusually long time and / or occur in the company of the above-mentioned non-specific general symptoms, you should urgently consult a doctor.

Swallowing problems and dysphagia, for example, are increasingly observed in cancer of the larynx, esophagus, stomach and in the late stages of thyroid cancer. Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of esophageal and gastric cancer, as well as duodenal cancer (duodenal cancer), gallbladder and bile duct cancer. Pain is also often part of the symptoms here, although the localization can vary depending on the different types of cancer. Abdominal pain is a possible sign of stomach cancer (especially with accompanying gastric pressure), duodenal cancer and cancer in the area of ​​the gallbladder or biliary tract. Colon cancer is also usually associated with cramping abdominal pain. Abdominal pain radiating from the back, for example, is becoming more common with pancreatic cancer. Kidney cancer and bladder cancer, on the other hand, are more likely to cause flank pain. A pressure pain in the right upper abdomen can be observed in cancer of the liver - in the late stage so-called ascites (abdominal dropsy) are often added. Ultimately, sufferers should exercise special caution with all forms of unusual, repeated pain and have this diagnosed early by a doctor, as they may be associated with the growth of a malignant tumor.

Digestive complaints such as diarrhea, constipation, bloated stomach, a build-up of urine or other disorders of micturition (urination) and bowel movements can also be signs of cancer. Corresponding impairments can be observed, for example, in connection with colon cancer or pancreatic cancer. In addition, blood in the urine is to be assessed as a warning signal, which should be checked urgently by a doctor, since here, for example, a disease of bladder cancer, kidney cancer or ureter cancer can be the cause. Changes in stool consistency (e.g. pencil chair) or additions of blood residues to the stool are also to be assessed as possible signs of cancer. For example, they can be related to colorectal cancer or anal canal cancer.

Respiratory symptoms

Chronic cough, not infrequently in the form of coughing up blood (hemoptysis), is a particularly noticeable warning sign of respiratory cancer. However, in bronchial carcinoma this usually only shows up in the extremely advanced course of the disease. Chronic cough irritation without blood admixtures can also be observed in pleural mesothelioma (breast skin tumor). In addition, there is pronounced shortness of breath in both lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma. This can also occur in the late stages of throat cancer and nasopharyngeal cancer. In the latter two forms of cancer, hoarseness is also a frequently observed accompanying symptom. In addition, increased nosebleeds in nasopharyngeal carcinomas are a conspicuous warning signal. Lung cancer often caused significant chest pain. If a combination of shortness of breath, chest pain and persistent cough - at worst even coughing up blood - can be observed, a specialist should be called in immediately, since even in the absence of cancer, extremely serious illnesses (e.g. tuberculosis) behind the symptoms can be stuck.

Cancer symptoms in the head area

Headaches are a possible warning signal, particularly for tumors directly in the brain (e.g. astrocytoma or glioblastoma), but also for bone marrow cancer. In brain tumors, depending on their location, further neurological impairments or disorders of the cranial nerve function can occur. Paralysis, severe headaches, dizziness, drowsiness to the point of lethargy and changes in personality are possible consequences here. Speech, vision and hearing disorders can also be part of the symptoms. Similar symptoms appear in bone marrow cancer if the increased flow of immunoglobulins impairs the fluidity of the blood, the microcirculation can therefore no longer be maintained to the extent necessary and a so-called hyperviscosity syndrome develops. An uncontrolled twitching of the eyes can also be part of the symptoms here. Another particularly noticeable sign that may be related to a brain tumor is newly emerging epileptic seizures.

Signs of women-specific cancer

Women-specific cancer is particularly vaginal, vulvar and cervical cancer. They are often accompanied by a noticeable vaginal discharge. For example, a bloody discharge can often be observed in vaginal and vulvar cancer. Cervical cancer is more likely to be accompanied by spotting, and genital bleeding can also be seen in ovarian cancer (ovarian cancer). At a later stage, vaginal cancer can be accompanied by direct vaginal bleeding, which increases after sexual intercourse. As the disease progresses, a particularly noticeable sign of the disease in cervical cancer is usually a sweet-smelling, flesh-colored, watery discharge. In general, regardless of the monthly cycle, abdominal pain in women can be seen as a possible warning signal for cancer. Disorders of the monthly cycle can also indicate cancer here. A medical examination is therefore strongly recommended.

More cancer symptoms

In the course of some cancers, anemia (anemia) occurs as a result of internal blood loss, which in turn can cause numerous other complaints. Because of the impaired oxygen supply, there is a general drop in performance, often accompanied by chronic fatigue. Headaches, buzzing in the ears, visual disturbances and impaired consciousness are also possible consequences of the lack of oxygen. In addition, increased respiratory rate and rapid heartbeat are part of the symptoms of anemia. As a sign of cancer, this can be observed increasingly in colon cancer and duodenal cancer, for example.

Another relatively noticeable cancer symptom is the so-called tumor cachexia, which usually only occurs in the advanced stage of the disease. It is the result of the metabolic disorders associated with cancer and is characterized by emaciation or emaciation of the patient. These break down more and more body or muscle mass, show signs of inflammation and usually develop insulin resistance. The consequences are a significantly reduced performance and an unfavorable effect on the course of the cancer. Tumor cachexia are among the more common complications, particularly in cancer of the digestive tract, such as esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer or colon cancer. However, they can also occur with other cancers, such as breast cancer or bronchial carcinoma.

Changes in the skin appearance are also to be assessed as possible signs of cancer, whereby this applies not only to newly formed spots and ulcers on the skin that form possible components of skin cancer, but also to a color change in the form of so-called jaundice (jaundice). This occurs when the bilirubin metabolism is permanently disturbed by the cancer and the concentration of bilirubin around blood serum increases significantly. Not only the skin but also the whites of the eyes and the mucous membranes subsequently show a yellowish discoloration. Jaundice can occur as an accompanying symptom in pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, gallbladder and biliary carcinoma, for example.

Bone pain is a possible sign of cancer that can be observed in bone marrow cancer but also in the metastasis of other forms of cancer (bone metastases). In addition, there are countless other complaints depending on the type of cancer and the location of the tumors, which, however, should not be assessed as general but rather as specific cancer signs.

Act early if there are signs of cancer

Cancer is usually much easier to treat if it is recognized at a very early stage of the disease. Therefore, a medical examination should follow as soon as possible if the symptoms mentioned occur. However, the typical cancer symptoms often only show up when the tumors have already reached a certain size. Only regular preventive examinations can remedy this. For example, insured persons in Germany are entitled to regular colon cancer screening from the age of 55. Breast cancer screening is available for women over the age of 50. With their help, corresponding cancers can be identified before the first signs of cancer appear.

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters


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