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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 pee.

A 'symptom' of disease is something that you feel and can describe to a doctor, but can’t see. For example, 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 that 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

Breast cancer - signs and symptoms

Coughing, chest pain and shortness of breath

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 pee or 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

Bowel cancer - signs and symptoms

Changes in your urine habits

Contact your GP if you have:

  • blood in your pee
  • 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.

Skin cancer - signs and symptoms


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

  • blood in your pee 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

Non-urgent advice: Contact your GP if:

  • you've lost weight
  • 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.

Page last reviewed: 31 March 2021
Next review due: 31 March 2024