When cancer is found at an early stage, treatment is often easier and more likely to be successful.
We encourage adults of all ages to read on and learn about 10 early symptoms of the five most common cancers.
Share this information with family, friends and colleagues , especially those over 40, so that they too can have the best chance of successful treatment if there is something wrong.
Early cancer symptoms
If you have any of these symptoms once or more, it’s important to get them checked out. It doesn’t mean you’ve got cancer – often they turn out to be something less serious, but it’s important to tell your doctor, clinic nurse or Aboriginal health worker straight away to be safe.
If you have any of these symptoms for more than four weeks, it’s important to get them checked out. Don’t put off making an appointment with your doctor, clinic nurse or health worker.
- Problems peeing
- Runny poo (diarrhoea)
- Unexplained weight loss
- An unusual pain, lump or swelling anywhere in your body
- Becoming more short of breath
- A persistent cough
- A new or changed spot on your skin.
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Take 45 seconds to listen to regional GP’s highlighting some of the early cancer symptoms you should be aware of.
Coughing up blood
If you’ve coughed up blood on any occasion, no matter how much or what colour, make an appointment to tell your doctor, clinic nurse or health worker straight away. It may be nothing to worry about but it could be a symptom of lung cancer.
Many people think they would make an appointment if they noticed something as serious as coughing up blood, but the truth is many people do not. Some think they haven’t coughed up enough to worry about. Or they are worried about what the doctor, nurse or health worker might find. If you notice any blood when you cough, no matter how much or what colour, make an appointment to tell your doctor, nurse or health worker.
If it’s nothing, your health professional will be able to reassure you. But if it’s something, finding out what it is and getting treatment can be really important.
Blood in your poo
Blood in your poo should always be reported to your doctor, clinic nurse or health worker straight away. Usually it’s not cancer and can be treated quickly and easily. The most common cause of blood in your poo is piles (haemorrhoids). Piles are caused by straining when going to the toilet. But blood in your poo can be a symptom of bowel cancer, so it’s very important to tell your doctor, nurse or health worker and get it checked out.
Blood in your pee
If you’ve noticed blood in your pee on any occasion, no matter how much or what colour, make an appointment to tell your doctor, clinic nurse or health worker straight away. The most common causes of blood in your pee are urinary tract or bladder infections, but it could be a symptom of a more serious condition such as prostate or bladder cancer. The best thing to do is to tell your doctor, nurse or health worker straight away and let them decide if further tests are required.
As men get older they often have problems peeing (passing urine). They may find they need to pee urgently or more often, are unable to go when they need to, or experience pain when they do. These symptoms are usually caused by a common medical condition that causes the prostate gland to enlarge (known as BPH, or benign prostate hyperplasia). Less commonly, these symptoms can be caused by prostate cancer. If you’re having any of these problems, you should tell your doctor, nurse or health worker.
For women, infections are the most common cause of pain and difficulty peeing. But needing to pee urgently or more often than usual should always be checked.
Runny poo (diarrhoea)
Gastro and food poisoning are the most usual causes of loose, frequent poo (diarrhoea). This doesn’t usually last long, and should go away within a few days. If you have noticed a change in your bowel habits lasting more than four weeks, it could be a more serious bowel problem. Changes in your bowel habits can include a change in the time and/or how often you poo, or a change in how you go – straining to go to the toilet (constipation) and/or runny poo (diarrhoea). It is important that you tell your doctor, nurse or health worker and get it checked out.
Most bowel cancers are found in people over the age of 50. If you’re younger, bowel changes are likely to be caused by other medical conditions. But if you have noticed any lasting changes to your bowel habits, no matter what your age you should get it checked out to be safe.
Unexplained weight loss
Small weight changes over time are quite normal. But if you have noticeably lost weight without dieting or increasing your physical activity, it is important that you tell your doctor, nurse or health worker. Even if you have been dieting in the past, you should still have any major weight loss checked out.
An unusual lump or swelling anywhere on your body
Many men know that any unusual lump in their testicles should be checked out. And women are generally aware that they should tell their doctor, nurse or health worker about an unusual breast lump.
But lumps or swellings in other parts of the body should also be taken seriously, especially if they are there for more than four weeks. This includes lumps and swellings in your neck, armpit, tummy (abdomen), groin (at the top of your legs) or chest area.
If these symptoms last for four weeks or more, it’s important to tell your doctor, clinic nurse or or health worker and get them checked out. A good time to check for unusual lumps and bumps is in the bath or shower.
Becoming more short of breath
It’s not unusual to feel out of breath every now and then. But if you notice that you’re feeling breathless more than usual, or for most of the time, make an appointment to tell your doctor, clinic nurse or health worker because it could be a symptom of lung cancer.
People often put breathlessness (being short of breath) down to getting older. But if you or anyone else has noticed that you’re more out of breath than usual, get yourself checked out. Chances are it’s nothing to worry about, but if it’s a symptom of lung cancer or something else, finding out and being treated early can make all the difference.
Even if you already have something wrong with your lungs that makes breathing more difficult – such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) – tell your doctor, nurse or health worker if you find you’re more out of breath than usual.
A persistent cough
A persistent cough and croaky voice are common symptoms of a cold or the flu. They often go away after a week or so and usually aren’t symptoms of anything serious. But if they last for longer than four weeks, if you cough up blood, or if an existing cough changes or gets worse, you should tell your doctor, clinic nurse or health worker without delay. This is particularly important if you smoke, even if you have given up, as you are more likely to get lung diseases.
A new or changed spot on your skin
Skin cancers can grow quickly, so it’s important to become familiar with your own skin (including skin not normally exposed to the sun) through regular self-checks. Look for crusty, non-healing sores; small lumps that are red, pale or pearly in colour; new spots or freckles; or any moles that change colour, thickness or shape over a period of weeks to months. If you’ve noticed anything unusual, it’s important to tell your doctor, clinic nurse or health worker.
The earlier cancer is found, the greater the chance of successful treatment
If you can find cancer when it’s at an early stage, before it’s had the chance to get too big or spread to other parts of the body, it can often be easily removed or treated. If the cancer has spread, treatment becomes more difficult your chances of survival may not be as good.