Information for the public
Symptoms that might suggest cancer
Some symptoms that are caused by cancer affect a particular part of the body, often where the cancer is located, such as lumps and swellings or pain in a particular area, bleeding, or changes to bowel movements. Others are more general, like tiredness and weight loss.
Many other illnesses, which are much more common and less serious than cancer, can cause the same types of symptoms. This can sometimes make it difficult for healthcare professionals to spot cancer.
This information explains the recommendations that NICE has made to help GPs make decisions about when to refer people to specialists or carry out tests when they present with symptoms that could be caused by cancer. We have organised the possible symptoms of cancer by the area of the body in which they are found. More general symptoms such as weight loss and tiredness, which are not limited to a specific area of the body, are included in the general symptoms section. There is also a separate section for symptoms of cancer in children and young people.
Your GP can check your symptoms, and may carry out tests if they are needed, to see if you should be referred to a cancer specialist.
Being referred to a specialist does not mean that you have cancer. Very few people who are referred to a specialist actually have cancer. However, it is important that you are checked quickly to find out. If you do have cancer, spotting it early can mean treatment is easier and more likely to be successful.
Some symptoms may mean that the chances of you having cancer are very low, others may mean the chances are higher, and sometimes a combination of different symptoms may increase your chances of having cancer. Other factors, such as your age and whether you have ever smoked, can also affect your chances of having cancer.