Cancer : Symptoms & Signs, Diagnosis & Tests

Symptoms & Signs

Symptoms of cancer depend on the type and location of the tumor. For example, lung cancer can cause coughing, shortness of breath, or chest pain. Colon cancer often causes diarrhea, constipation, and blood in the stool.

Some cancers may not have any symptoms at all. In certain cancers, such as gallbladder cancer, symptoms often do not start until the disease has reached an advanced stage.

The following symptoms can occur with most cancers:

  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Malaise
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss

Diagnosis & Tests

Like symptoms, the signs of cancer vary based on the type and location of the tumor. Common tests include the following:

  • Biopsy of the tumor
  • Blood chemistries
  • Bone marrow biopsy (for lymphoma or leukemia)
  • Chest x-ray
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • CT scan

Most cancers are diagnosed by biopsy. Depending on the location of the tumor, the biopsy may be a simple procedure or a serious operation. Most patients with cancer have CT scans to determine the exact location and size of the tumor or tumors.

A cancer diagnosis is difficult to cope with. It is important, however, that you discuss the type, size, and location of the cancer with your doctor when you are diagnosed. You also will want to ask about treatment options, along with their benefits and risks.

It’s a good idea to have someone with you at the doctor’s office to help you get through the diagnosis. If you have trouble asking questions after hearing about your diagnosis, the person you bring with you can ask them for you.


Review Date : 8/2/2008
Reviewed By : David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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