Early Symptoms of Cancer

Symptoms of cancer
Surprisingly, the early symptoms of cancer are rather few. Of course, that is when we take cancer as a whole as opposed to breaking it down to the more than 200 diseases that it comprises. But if cancer could be tracked down to a single, original unit, that unit would be a tumor. A tumor is a mass of extra tissue that results when cells in the body start multiplying uncontrollably and unnecessarily. A cancerous tumor can form in any part of the body and spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. The symptoms vary depending on the size and location of the tumor and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

However, general early cancer symptoms include:

  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Abnormal bleeding or discharge.
  • Lingering indigestion.
  • White patches inside the mouth.
  • White spots on the tongue.
  • Fatigue.
  • A lump that can be felt under the skin.
  • Skin changes.
  • Bowel or bladder habit changes.
  • Lingering cough.
  • Swallowing difficulties.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Unaccountable muscle or joint pain.
  • Unaccountable fever or night sweats.  

Not all tumors are cancerous, though. Non-cancerous tumors are called benign tumors; they don’t spread to other parts of the body, and once removed they almost never come back. Benign tumors are not life-threatening.

Some benign tumors are:

  • Papilloma.
  • Adenoma.
  • Lipoma.
  • Osteoma.
  • Myoma.
  • Angioma.
  • Nevus.

Malignant tumors, on the other hand, are cancerous. They can grow rapidly and invade other parts of the body through the lymphatic system or the blood stream, a process that is called metastasis. There are two main types of malignant tumors; carcinomas and sarcomas. The former is the most common type and starts in the epithelium (and organ´s lining cells); the latter can affect connective and supportive tissue all over the body. Benign tumors resemble original mature cells, grow slowly and might stop or regress, expand and displace do not metastasize and are not lethal; whereas malignant tumors might differ from original mature cells, grow quickly and autonomously without usually stopping or regressing, invade, destroy and replace, metastasize and can lead to death.

The treatment and chance of recovery of a patient are determined by the stage of the cancer. The early symptoms of cancer take place in the early stages. However, there are other methods for cancer staging. The most commonly employed method is the TNM system. Each of those three letters is paired with a symbol, either a letter or a number, to designate the extent of the tumor.





T1, T2, T3, T4

Primary tumor

Cannot be evaluated

No evidence of primary tumor

Cancer in situ*

The higher the number the larger the tumor and/or the father it has spread.

*Cancer in situ means that while cancerous cells have been found, they have not spread beyond their place of origin.




N1, N2, N3

Regional lymph nodes*

Cannot be evaluated

No regional lymph node involvement

Refer to the quantity and location of lymph nodes involved.

*Small organs that help fight infection.





Distant metastasis*

Cannot be evaluated

No distant metastasis

Distant metastasis is present.

*Secondary tumors in other parts of the body.

Oftentimes, TNM combinations can be interpreted as one of five different stages:

  • Stage 0. Cancer in situ.
  • Stages I, II, and III. Each number indicates either a larger tumor or a wider spread beyond the original organ, to nearby lymph nodes, tissue, or organs.
  • Stage IV. Spread to distant tissue or organs.

Not all cancers are staged using these systems, and those that are can yield different prognoses depending on the type of cancer.

In very broad strokes, cancer is caused by genetic mutations. Some genetic mutations are hereditary, but most are acquired after birth and can be caused by many external factors, including lifestyle choices. That’s why lung cancer is not a common childhood cancer. In fact, the most common cancers in children are leukemia, brain tumors, bone cancer, soft tissue sarcoma, kidney tumors, retinoblastoma and adrenocortical carcinoma. Adults are more likely to develop lung, breast, bowel, prostate, and skin cancer. The early symptoms of cancer in children are similar to general symptoms, including:

Abnormal mass or swelling.

Unaccountable paleness.

  • Energy loss.
  • Sudden bruising tendency.
  • Lingering localized pain or limping.
  • Extended and unaccountable fever or illness.
  • Frequent headaches, usually with vomiting.
  • Sudden vision changes.
  • Quick and excessive loss of weight.

Over fifty inherited cancer syndromes have been described in scientific literature, most of which are caused by highly penetrant mutations inherited in a dominant fashion. Mutated genes for which there is genetic testing include:


  • Breast cancer.
  • Ovarian cancer.
  • Prostate cancer.
  • Pancreatic cancer.


  • Breast.
  • Soft tissue sarcoma.
  • Bone.
  • Leukemia.
  • Brain tumor.
  • Adrenal glands.


  • Breast.
  • Thyroid.
  • Endometrial.


  • Colorectal.
  • Endometrial.
  • Ovarian.
  • Renal pelvis.
  • Pancreatic.
  • Small intestine.
  • Liver and biliary tract.
  • Stomach.
  • Brain.
  • Breast.


  • Colon.
  • Small intestine.
  • Brain.
  • Stomach.


  • Eye.
  • Pineal gland.
  • Osteosarcoma.
  • Melanoma.
  • Soft tissue sarcoma.


  • Pancreatic endocrine tumors.


  • Medullary thyroid cancer.


  • Kidney cancer.

Lifestyle choices/habits can add to the risk factors that you can’t help (age, family history, environment). Some of those choices/habits may be difficult to change, especially if they are expected from a certain line of work. They include:

  • Smoking.
  • Drinking.
  • A sedentary lifestyle.
  • Diet.
  • Exposure to chemicals.
  • Exposure to radiation.
  • Exposure to sunlight.
  • Use of tanning booths.

Other factors pertain to sexual reproduction and behavior. For example, women who do not have children before 30 have an increase risk of breast cancer, while sexually transmitted disease can increase cervical cancer risk. As it turns out, there are several do’s and don’t’s that can decrease and increase the risk of certain cancers, though there are no guarantees either way.


  • Eating vegetables greatly reduces the risk of lung, colon, stomach, oral, and esophagus cancer; somewhat reduces the risk of breast, pancreas, bladder, and larynx cancer; and might reduce the risk of prostate, kidney, ovary, liver, cervix, thyroid, and uterus cancer.
  • Eating fruits greatly reduces the risk of stomach, oral, and esophagus cancer; somewhat reduces the risk of lung, breast, pancreas, bladder and larynx cancer; and might reduce the risk of ovary, cervix, thyroid and uterus cancer.
  • Physical activity greatly reduces the risk of colon cancer, and might reduce the risk lung and breast cancer.


  • Alcohol greatly increases the risk of liver, esophagus, and larynx cancer; somewhat increases the risk of colon and breast cancer; and might increase the risk of lung and oral cancer.
  • Obesity greatly increases the risk of uterus cancer; somewhat increases the risk of breast and kidney cancer; and might increase the risk of colon and gallbladder cancer.
  • Tobacco greatly increases the risk of lung, oral, pancreas, cervix, bladder, esophagus and larynx cancer; somewhat increases the risk of nasopharynx cancer; and might increase the risk of colon and kidney cancer.