Are There Warning Signs of Cancer?

Maureen Robb's picture
By Maureen Robb on May 8, 2018

Have you noticed any changes in your body lately?

Any difficulty swallowing, skin sores that don’t heal, or night sweats?

These are just a few potential warning signs of cancer.

In 2018, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, and 609,640 people will die from it, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The most common types include breast, lung, prostate, colon, rectum, bladder and kidney cancer.

Warning Signs

What can you do to help protect yourself?

“Be attuned to any body changes that seem unexpected,” said Jeri Lantz, M.D., chief of general internal medicine at Carilion Clinic.

The main warning signs are:

  • Changes in bowel habits, particularly unexplained bleeding
  • Skin sores that don’t heal
  • Lumps or thickening in the breasts, testicles, underarms or neck
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Lack of appetite or getting full quickly
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss if you’re not dieting
  • Changes in skin moles or warts
  • A chronic cough
  • Unexplained mouth sores
  • Fevers not associated with an illness
  • Recurring respiratory infections
  • Post-menopausal bleeding or spotting
  • Unexplained pain, including bone pain and unusual headaches

Are there particular signs associated with specific types of cancer?

“Yes, in many cases,” said Dr. Lantz. “Night sweats, for instance, are associated with lymphomas or bone marrow cancers.”

“Coughing up blood, particularly if you have a history of smoking, working in a mine or silica or asbestos exposure, can indicate lung cancer,” she added.

Other examples include:

  • Recurring respiratory infections could be a sign of cancer of the bone marrow
  • Difficulty swallowing could indicate stomach, esophageal, or head and neck cancer
  • Lumps, bleeding, nipple sores or a nipple discharge could indicate breast cancer
  • Blood in the urine, or a change in the urine stream, could signal bladder or prostate cancer
  • Mouth sores that won’t heal, or lumps in the neck, may be warning signs of head or neck cancer
  • Red blood in stools, or dark, tarry stools, could indicate colon cancer


“The biggest thing is making sure you’re seeing your doctor on a regular basis, so any warning signs can be evaluated early,” Dr. Lantz said. “Also, get screening exams appropriate for your age.”

Other preventive steps you can take?

Dr. Lantz advises you to:

  • Eat a balanced diet with lots of leafy greens, other vegetables and fruit
  • Drink green tea, which is high in antioxidants
  • Eat healthy fats like olive oil, high in cancer-fighting properties
  • Exercise
  • Minimize your exposure to known carcinogens like tobacco

The prospect of cancer frightens all of us. It claims the lives of all too many good people. 

But being aware of any changes in your body—and good lifestyle choices—can go a long way toward keeping you healthy for years to come.

What not to say to someone with cancer.