Cancer signs and symptoms

New cases of colorectal cancer in Germany have decreased slightly. (Image: psdesign1/

The first symptoms of cancer or malignant tumors often appear relatively early on, but they can also occur in connection with other diseases and are therefore often not recognized as signs of cancer. According to the variety of different forms of cancer, the spectrum of these symptoms is extremely broad. However, some symptoms, such as chronic fatigue or significant weight loss, are seen in many of these forms of cancer, so they are generally considered possible warning signs of cancer.

Increasing signs of cancer

In order to provide a better overview, the large number of possible cancer signs will be assigned to six groups in the next section. We distinguish here the "non-specific general symptoms", "complaints in the digestive tract and abdomen", "respiratory symptoms", "Symptoms in the head area and on the neurological level", "Signs of cancer specific to women" As well as "Further increased with cancer appearing symptoms". This list does not claim to be a complete compilation of all conceivable cancer symptoms, but concentrates on the symptoms that are increasingly being observed.

Non-specific cancer symptoms

Many cancer symptoms can also be observed in harmless other diseases, so that they are often not associated with a possible cancer disease by the affected person. These rather unspecific signs of cancer often appear in a very early stage of cancer. If they are interpreted correctly and diagnosed at an early stage, there is often a relatively good chance of treatment. As unspecific warning signals are, 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. Examples include bone marrow cancer (multiple myeloma), colorectal cancer, kidney cancer, leukemia (blood cancer), ovarian cancer, Hodgkin's lymphoma, and late-stage breast cancer.

Digestive symptoms may be an indication of colorectal cancer, but in most cases are due to other causes. (Image: psdesign1/

Just because someone is increasingly tired and their performance is reduced, however, does not necessarily mean that they have cancer. However, a visit to the doctor in case of doubt can not hurt, especially since other possible causes of the complaints are also checked here. This applies in a similar way in the case of significant weight loss not due to a diet. This is also more common in bone marrow cancer, colorectal cancer (especially small bowel cancer and duodenal tumors), kidney cancer, leukemia and Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Other examples of cancers that can be associated with significant weight loss include carcinomas of the gallbladder (gallbladder carcinoma / bile duct carcinoma), pancreas (pancreatic head carcinoma) or liver (hepatocellular carcinoma), as well as esophageal cancer and malignant tumors of the pleura (pleural mesothelioma). Often, weight loss is also associated with a persistent loss of appetite in affected individuals.

If reduced performance, fatigue and weight loss are observed at the same time, a visit to the doctor is urgently recommended. This is all the more true if other symptoms such as night sweats or fever are also present. They can occur, for example, in gallbladder carcinomas or bile duct carcinomas, in leukemias, Hodgkin's lymphomas and kidney cancer. Bronchial carcinomas (lung cancer) are also frequently accompanied by fever.

An unpleasant itching of the skin is a non-specific accompanying symptom that can also be found in several different cancers. This also occurs more frequently with gallbladder carcinoma and bile duct carcinoma, leukemia and Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Swelling of the lymph nodes can occur as a non-specific sign of cancer, for example in leukemia, thyroid cancer or nasopharyngeal carcinoma. In addition, many affected persons show a generally increased susceptibility to infections, which is often not initially associated with a possible cancer.

The more of the above-mentioned non-specific symptoms occur simultaneously, the higher the probability that a cancer is actually the triggering factor. However, here, too, there are a number of other conceivable causes of the complaints, which must be examined by a doctor.

Complaints in the digestive tract and abdominal cavity

The possible cancer symptoms in the digestive tract are extremely comprehensive and often resemble those of a simple gastrointestinal infection. Thus, those affected do not normally think of a cancer disease here either. Especially if the symptoms persist for an unusually long time and/or are accompanied by the above-mentioned non-specific general symptoms, you should urgently consult a doctor.

Swallowing problems or dysphagia, for example, are more common with cancers of the larynx, esophagus, stomach, and in the late stages with thyroid cancer. Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of cancer of the esophagus and stomach, as well as duodenal, gallbladder and bile duct cancers. Pain is also often part of the symptoms, whereby the localization can vary depending on the different forms of cancer.

Abdominal pain is a possible sign of stomach cancer (especially if accompanied by gastric prere), duodenal carcinoma and cancers of the gallbladder or bile ducts. Cramping abdominal pain is also often associated with colorectal cancer. Abdominal pain radiating to the back is more common in pancreatic cancer, for example. Kidney cancer and bladder cancer, on the other hand, are more likely to cause flank pain. A prere pain in the right upper abdomen can be observed in cancer of the liver – in the late stage, so-called ascites (abdominal dropsy) is often added here.

Ultimately, affected persons should exercise particular caution with all forms of unusual, repeated pain and have it clarified by a doctor at an early stage, as it may be associated with the growth of a malignant tumor.

Digestive problems such as diarrhea, constipation, flatulence, urinary retention or other disturbances in micturition (urination) and bowel movements can also be possible signs of cancer.

Corresponding impairments are increasingly observed in connection with colon cancer or pancreatic cancer, for example. Furthermore, blood in the urine is a warning signal that should be checked by a doctor as a matter of urgency, as it could be caused by bladder cancer, kidney cancer or cancer of the ureter, for example.

Changes in stool consistency (e.g., pencil stool) or the presence of blood residue in stool are also possible signs of cancer. They may, for example, be associated with colorectal cancer or anal canal carcinoma.

Respiratory problems

A chronic cough, often in the form of coughing up blood (hemoptysis), is a particularly conspicuous warning sign of cancer of the respiratory tract. However, in the case of bronchial carcinoma, this usually only becomes apparent in the extremely advanced course of the disease. Chronic coughing without blood is also observed in pleural mesothelioma (tumor of the pleura). In addition, both lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma cause severe shortness of breath. This can also occur in the late stages of laryngeal cancer and nasopharyngeal cancer. In the latter two forms of cancer, hoarseness is also a frequently observed accompanying symptom.

Furthermore, increased nose bleeding is a conspicuous warning signal in the case of nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Lung cancer often causes considerable pain in the chest. If a combination of shortness of breath, chest pain and persistent coughing – in the worst case even coughing up blood – is observed, a specialist should be consulted immediately, as even if there is no cancer, extremely serious diseases (for example, tuberculosis) may be behind the symptoms.

Cancer symptoms in the head area

Headaches are a possible warning sign, especially in the case of tumors directly in the brain (for example, astrocytoma or glioblastoma), but also in the case of bone marrow cancer. In the case of brain tumors, depending on their location, further neurological impairments or disturbances of cranial nerve function may occur. Paralysis, severe headaches, dizziness, drowsiness and even lethargy and changes in personality are possible consequences. Speech, vision and hearing disorders can also be part of the symptoms.

Similar symptoms are seen in bone marrow cancer, when due to the increased formation of immunoglobulins the fluidity of the blood is impaired, the microcirculation can therefore no longer be maintained to the necessary extent and a so-called hyperviscosity syndrome develops. Uncontrolled eye twitching can also be part of the symptoms. Another particularly conspicuous sign that may be associated with a brain tumor is the occurrence of new epileptic seizures.

Signs of cancer specific to women

Women-specific cancers include, in particular, vaginal carcinomas, vulvar cancer and cervical cancer. They are often accompanied by a noticeable discharge from the vagina. For example, a bloody discharge is often seen in vaginal and vulvar cancers. Cervical cancer, on the other hand, is more likely to be accompanied by so-called spotting. Genital bleeding can also be observed in ovarian cancer.

In the later stages, vaginal cancer can be accompanied by direct vaginal bleeding, which occurs more frequently after sexual intercourse. As the disease progresses, a particularly noticeable sign of cervical cancer is usually a sweet-smelling, flesh-colored, watery discharge. In general, abdominal pain observed in women regardless of the menstrual cycle is a possible warning signal of cancer. Disturbances of the menstrual cycle can also indicate cancer. A medical examination is therefore urgently advised.

Cancer screening can save lives. Many cancer tumors can be cured at the beginning of growth. (Image: Dan Race/

Other cancer symptoms

In the course of some cancers, anemia develops as a result of internal blood loss, which in turn can cause numerous other complaints. The impaired oxygen supply leads to a general drop in performance, often accompanied by chronic fatigue. Headaches, ringing in the ears, visual disturbances and impaired consciousness are also possible consequences of oxygen deficiency. In addition, an increased respiratory rate. Heart palpitations to the symptoms of anemia. As a sign of cancer, this is, for example, increased in colorectal cancer. Duodenal carcinomas to be observed.

Another relatively conspicuous cancer symptom is the so-called tumor cachexia, which, however, usually only occurs in the advanced stages of the disease. It is a consequence of the metabolic disorders associated with cancer and is characterized by emaciation or emaciation of the patients.

Those affected lose more and more body mass, especially muscle mass, show increased signs of inflammation and usually develop insulin resistance. A significantly reduced capacity. An unfavorable effect on the course of the cancer disease are the consequences. Tumor cachexia is one of the most common complications of cancer of the digestive tract, such as esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer or colon cancer. However, they can also occur in other cancers, such as breast cancer or bronchial carcinoma.

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

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 form of cancer and the localization of the tumors, which, however, are not to be evaluated 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 detected at a very early stage of the disease. Therefore, a medical examination should follow as soon as possible when the mentioned symptoms appear. However, the typical cancer symptoms often only become apparent when the tumors have already reached a certain size.

Only regular preventive medical checkups can help here. Insured persons in Germany, for example, have from the age of 50. Entitlement to regular colorectal cancer screening before the age of 50. For women over the age of 50. Mammography is offered as a breast cancer screening at the age of. With the help of this information, it may be possible to detect cancer before the first signs of cancer appear.

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