Signs and symptoms - Cancer

Cancer can cause changes to how your body normally looks and works. A 'sign' of disease is something that you can see. This could be a change to your skin or blood that you can see in your poo or wee.

A 'symptom' of disease is something that you feel and can describe to a doctor, but can’t see, such as pain, tiredness or a headache.

It's important to be aware of any new or unexplained changes to your body. These changes could be:

  • a new lump or bump
  • a lump or bump changing in appearance or size
  • unexpected bleeding from any area
  • unexplained bruising
  • unexplained or persistent pain
  • a change to your usual bowel habits
  • a new or changing cough
  • changes on your skin
  • unexplained weight loss or weight loss without trying
  • unexplained tiredness

These are common signs and symptoms and are often caused by other, non-cancerous illnesses. But if you notice anything that is unusual for you it's important to talk to your GP.

If your GP suspects cancer, they'll refer you to a specialist. The specialist will do further tests. They'll also plan any necessary treatment.

Lump or bump in your breast

Contact your GP if you have a lump:

  • that is new
  • that is changing in size or appearance
  • in your breast or under your arm

Read more about breast cancer

Coughing, chest pain and breathlessness

Contact your GP if you have:

  • a new cough that last for more than 3 weeks
  • a cough that has changed or is different to your usual cough
  • chest or shoulder pain that does not go away
  • shortness of breath more than is normal for you
  • blood when you cough

Changes in bowel habits

Talk to your GP if you have:

  • blood in your wee
  • blood in your poo
  • diarrhoea or constipation for no obvious reason
  • a feeling of not having fully emptied your bowels after going to the toilet
  • pain in your stomach or bum
  • a feeling that your stomach is bloated all the time
  • a feeling that you have no appetite or you are full very quickly after eating

Read more about bowel cancer

Changes in your urine habits

Contact your GP if you have:

  • blood in your wee
  • needing to pee more frequently
  • a feeling that you cannot fully empty your bladder
  • straining or feeling that it is difficult to pee

Changes in your skin

See your GP if you have a mole that:

  • has an uneven or crooked shape
  • has an uneven border with jagged edges
  • has more than one colour – it may have brown, black, red, pink or white flecks or patches
  • is bigger than 7mm in diameter
  • is itchy, crusting or bleeding

Any of the above changes means there's a chance you have malignant melanoma. This is a form of skin cancer.

Read more about skin cancer

Bleeding

Contact your GP if you have any unexplained bleeding, such as:

  • blood in your wee or poo
  • blood when you cough
  • blood in your vomit
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods or after sex
  • bleeding when you are post-menopausal - it is at least 1 year after your last period

Unexplained weight loss

Contact your GP if you've lost weight and your weight loss cannot be explained by changes to your diet and exercise.


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

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