Signs and symptoms


When cancer begins it invariably produces no symptoms with signs and symptoms only appearing as the mass continues to grow or ulcerates. The findings that result depends on the type and location of the cancer. Few symptoms are specific, with many of them also frequently occurring in individuals who have other conditions. Cancer is the new “great imitator”. Thus it is not uncommon for people diagnosed with cancer to have been treated for other diseases to which it was assumed their symptoms were due.   Local effects Local symptoms may occur due to the mass of the tumor or its ulceration. For example, mass effects from lung cancer can cause blockage of the bronchus resulting in cough or pneumonia; esophageal cancer can cause narrowing of the esophagus, making it difficult or painful to swallow; and colorectal cancer may lead to narrowing or blockages in the bowel, resulting in changes in bowel habits. Masses of breast or testicles may be easily felt. Ulceration can cause bleeding which, if it occurs in the lung, will lead to coughing up blood, in the bowels to anemia or rectal bleeding, in the bladder to blood in the urine, and in the uterus to vaginal bleeding. Although localized pain may occur in advanced cancer, the initial swelling is usually painless. Some cancers can cause build up of fluid within the chest or abdomen.   Systemic symptoms General symptoms occur due to distant effects of the cancer that are not related to direct or metastatic spread. These may include: unintentional weight loss, fever, being excessively tired, and changes to the skin. Hodgkin disease, leukemias, and cancers of the liver or kidney can cause a persistent fever of unknown origin. Specific constellations of systemic symptoms, termed paraneoplastic phenomena, may occur with some cancers. Examples include the appearance of myasthenia gravis in thymoma and clubbing in lung cancer.   Metastasis Symptoms of cancer metastasis depend on the location of the tumor. Symptoms of metastasis are due to the spread of cancer to other locations in the body. They can include enlarged lymph nodes (which can be felt or sometimes seen under the skin and are typically hard), hepatomegaly (enlarged liver) or splenomegaly (enlarged spleen) which can be felt in the abdomen, pain or fracture of affected bones, and neurological symptoms.