These days, when we feel an ache or pain, we immediately go online and search for possible conditions we could have while thinking of the worst possible condition. Then, we calm down and tell ourselves it’s probably nothing. So, when is a stomach ache just due to a bad burrito and when is it a warning sign of something more? Below are potential warning signs of cancer and scenarios where warning signs have a higher risk of being cancer.

10 Warning Signs of Cancer

Cancer can occur in so many different forms. So, many signs can be warning indications of cancer. Having one or more of these signs does not mean that you have cancer. It could be an indication of another, less serious condition. Either way, you should see a doctor if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms to get to the root cause and detect cancer in its early stages.

  • Fatigue (feeling very tired)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge
  • A cough that doesn’t go away
  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Indigestion
  • A change in bowel or bladder habits
  • A lump under the skin (such as in the breast)
  • A change in the size or appearance of a mole
  • Sores that don’t heal

How Cancer Can Cause Physical Signs

Some of the warning signs described above may be caused by a tumor growing and pressing on organs, nerves and blood vessels. Cancer cells  have an abnormally high metabolic rate and consume a lot of energy. This can cause severe tiredness and weight loss. Tumors may also stimulate the immune system and produce physical signs such as fever.

When You Should Pay More Attention to a Warning Sign

Although the warning signs of cancer may be linked with other conditions beside cancer, signs that persist or worsen warrant more attention.

For certain types of cancer, having a family history of the disease increases the risk of a warning sign being something more serious. The risk increases if a first-degree relative (a parent or a child) is affected, or if one or more family members had cancer at a younger age (50 years or younger).

Examples of cancers that run in families are colon cancer and breast and ovarian cancer. In addition, Li-Fraumeni syndrome (a cluster of bone, muscle, breast and brain cancers) and Lynch syndrome (a cluster of stomach, liver, kidney, uterine, brain and skin cancers) are rare inherited cancer syndromes.

I Think I Have One of These Signs …What Should I Do?

If you have any of these signs — especially if they persist or get worse — it’s a good idea to see a doctor and get an examination. Detecting cancer early often means earlier treatment and better outcomes. Be sure to tell your doctor if someone in your family has or had cancer.

Your doctor will examine you and may refer you for tests, including blood tests. This could often include a complete blood count that measures the various types of blood cells in your body. Your doctor may also order additional blood tests that look for specific cancer proteins. Other diagnostics include imaging tests (eg, MRI and PET) and biopsies of lumps under the skin or tissue areas that look suspicious in imaging. Contact Yosemite Pathology today if you’re experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms and work with our board certified pathologists to detect and treat cancer.

Ing Wei Khor is a trained scientist and medical writer who is passionate about communicating science and medicine clearly and simply to a wide audience.


The Cleveland Clinic – Symptoms & Warning Signs of Cancer

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Family Health History of Colorectal (Colon) Cancer

National Cancer Institute Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics – Li-Fraumeni Syndrome Study

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Lynch Syndrome