Cancer 101: Signs and Symptoms

We hear a lot about “cancer,” but what are the cancer signs and symptoms of being aware? Statistics show that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will get cancer in their lifetime – and some symptoms develop early in the course of cancer.

Cancer is more likely to be successfully treated if it is less advanced, so cancer must be discovered early. Most cancer symptoms usually are caused by less severe conditions. Still, it would be best if you did not ignore cancer warning signs.

Vague changes in the body can help doctors pinpoint exams and tests necessary to confirm a diagnosis. Other symptoms may direct doctors to a particular type of cancer. A doctor should evaluate a painless lump in the breast. After cancer progresses, weight loss generally follows. Changes in the bowel, blood in the stool, or swallowing difficulty may be signs of specific cancer.

Potential cancer warning signs include:

  • A sore that does not heal
  • Blood in stool or urine
  • Change in bowels (constipation or diarrhea)
  • Changes in the size or color of a mole
  • Chronic cough
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • New, constant pain
  • Night sweats
  • Recurring nausea or vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss

As a tiny mass of cells, cancer causes no symptoms. However, as cancer grows, the cells may affect nearby tissues – growing into the tissue or pushing the tissue and compressing or disturbing them. Irritation of the tissue usually causes pain, while compression may keep organs from performing normal functions.

When cancer grows in a spacious area – the lungs or intestines – there may not be warning signs or symptoms until it becomes quite large. Likewise, cancer growing in a smaller space – on a vocal cord – may cause symptoms when it is comparatively tiny. If cancer spreads, the symptoms may be different.

Cancer Signs, Symptoms, and Side Effects

As cancer grows, it can affect you in different ways:


For some cancers – brain tumors (headache) and head and neck and esophageal cancers (painful swallowing) – pain may be an early symptom. The first symptom of cancer is discomfort, which worsens into severe pain as cancer grows. While not all cancers cause pain, the lack of pain does not mean cancer is not growing.


Cancer may bleed slightly because the tumor’s blood vessels are fragile. Later, as cancer invades surrounding tissues, it may grow into a nearby blood vessel. The bleeding may be detectable only with testing. (This often is the case in Stage I colon cancer.) With advanced cancer, the bleeding may be significant and life-threatening.

Cancer along the digestive or urinary tract can cause bleeding in the stool or urine. Bleeding in the lungs may cause you to cough up blood.

Blood clots

Cancers can cause clot formations in the veins of the legs (deep vein thrombosis), which break off and travel to the lung (pulmonary embolism). These clots can be fatal. Clotting is most common with brain, lung, pancreatic, and other solid tumors.

Weight loss and fatigue

Weight loss and fatigue are common and can worsen as cancer progresses. Some people lose their appetite, become nauseated by food, or find it difficult to swallow. Eventually, anemia may develop, and you feel tired, get short of breath with the slightest activity.

Swollen lymph nodes

While developing, cancer may spread to nearby lymph nodes, which become swollen. Usually painless, and the swollen lymph nodes may feel stiff or rubbery and be freely moveable. With advanced cancer, the lymph nodes may stick to surrounding tissues or each other.

Neurologic and muscular symptoms

Cancer may compress nerves or the spinal cord, which causes neurologic and muscular symptoms – pain, tingling, or weakness. Brain cancer symptoms can include seizures, changes in vision, confusion, dizziness, headaches, and nausea.

Respiratory symptoms

Cancer can restrict or even block the airways in the lungs. These compressions may cause shortness of breath, coughing, or pneumonia. Shortness of breath caused by cancer also may lead to a build-up of excess fluid, bleeding, or anemia.

Being aware of the signs and symptoms of cancer is a proactive approach to sustained health. If you are diagnosed with cancer, early treatment is paramount. Regardless of conventional, integrative, or alternative medicine, there will be a substantial cost associated with your cancer regimen.

LifeGuide Partners can help you avoid the financial toxicity often associated with cancer treatment. If you are looking for a way to pay for treatment – and avoid the potential for life-changing bankruptcy – the financial experts at LifeGuide may be able to convert your existing life insurance policy in cash.

Visit LifeGuide Partners or call 1-888-GUIDE50 to learn more.



[1] Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer.

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