Center for Asbestos Safety

General signs and symptoms related to cancer

You need to be aware of the general (non-specific) signs and symptoms related to cancer. But keep in mind that even when you may have any of these symptoms, it may not necessarily mean that you have cancer. Other factors can also lead to these signs and symptoms.

Unexplained weight loss

Majority of cancer patients will experience weight loss at some point of time. An unexpected weight loss of around 10 pounds or more (when no other efforts have been made to lose weight) can be the initial sign of cancer. This has been widely reported in cancers of the stomach, esophagus, pancreas, or lung.


Fever is quite common amongst cancer patients, but it usually occurs when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body from its original site of occurrence. Majority of cancer patients will have fever at some point of time, especially in cases where there is likelihood that the cancer or its treatment will affect the immune system. As a result, it can become difficult for the body to protect itself from infections. In some cases, fever can be an early sign of cancer, for instance blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma.


Fatigue is acute tiredness which does not get better even with adequate amount of rest. This may be a major symptom as the cancer intensifies. However, fatigue can occur a lot earlier also, for instance in cancers such as leukemia, or when the cancer is resulting in blood loss, for instance in certain types of stomach or colon cancers.


Pain can occur early on in certain types of cancers, for instance testicular cancer or bone cancer. A headache that persists or one that is not responding to treatment can be a symptom of brain tumor. Back pain may be a symptom of specific types of cancer such as cancers of the rectum, colon or ovary. Usually, pain associated with a specific type of cancer is a symptom of cancer which has already metastasized (spread to other parts of the body from the original site).

Skin changes

Apart from cancers of the skin, there are other types of cancers too that can induce skin symptoms or signs which are noticeable from the outside. These include:

More on specific types of cancer.


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