Skip Navigation
Search Menu
Articles & Answers

Ask the Expert

Early Cancer Warning Signs: 5 Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore

Print This Page
One symptom you shouldn't ignore: Unexplained weight loss

Reviewed By:

Today, people are living longer than ever after a cancer diagnosis due to improved cancer screenings. Routine screenings catch diseases earlier, when they are more straightforward to treat.

Noticing one of the following symptoms doesn’t mean you have cancer. But to be safe, Johns Hopkins surgical oncologist Nita Ahuja, M.D., asks you not to ignore these five symptoms. They’re important enough to tell your doctor about.

1: Unexplained Weight Loss 

When you lose weight for no reason, call your doctor. A loss of 10 pounds or more could be nothing to worry about. However, in rare cases, it may be the first sign of cancer. 

2: Fatigue

This isn’t fatigue similar to how you feel after a long day of work or play. The extreme fatigue that doesn’t get better with rest can be an early sign of cancer.

Cancer uses your body’s nutrients to grow and advance, so those nutrients are no longer replenishing your body. This “nutrient theft” can make you feel extremely tired.

There are lots of underlying causes of fatigue, many of them not cancer-related. If your symptoms are severe enough to affect your quality of life, call your doctor.

3: Fever

Fever can be a common symptom of routine colds and the flu. Often, it’s nothing to worry about. 

Certain characteristics of fever can foretell a possible cancer connection. You should pay particular attention if:

  • A fever happens mostly at night.
  • You have no other signs of infection.
  • You experience night sweats.

4: Pain

Pain is another symptom that can be caused by a multitude of things, many of them routine, but it can also hint at an underlying disease.

Cancer can cause pain in different ways, including:

  •  A mass or tumor pushing on other areas of your body
  • The chemicals a cancer releases
  • Metastasis, or spreading from where a cancer started

If you’re experiencing pain that doesn’t go away — and you’re not sure where it came from — your doctor can help with the best next steps.

5: Skin Changes

Our skin is the largest organ of our body and can be a window into our overall health. Jaundice (yellowing of eyes or fingertips) is one symptom that could suggest a possible infection. Whether the cause is cancer or a more routine infection, you should get it checked out.

Changes in moles can also be cause for concern. Call your doctor if a mole:

  • Is asymmetrical, or has jagged edges
  • Has funny or irregular borders
  • Changes color or gets darker
  • Is large or growing

These aren’t the only ways your body could react to an early cancer. Check out the symptoms Johns Hopkins gastroenterologist Anne Marie Lennon, M.D., Ph.D., wants you to be extra cautious about.

You May Also Like

Lumps and masses can sometimes be an early sign of cancer. If you notice a new lump, call your doctor.

5 Symptoms of Cancer You Might Be Ignoring — But Shouldn’t!

Johns Hopkins gastroenterologist Anne Marie Lennon, M.D., Ph.D. advises patients to pay attention to changes their body as it could a sign of something serious.

Gastric cancer worried woman

Gastric Cancer: Answers from Expert Fabian Johnston

Fabian Johnston, M.D., M.H.S., co-director of the Johns Hopkins Peritoneal Surface Malignancy Program, answers commonly asked questions about gastric cancer.

When looking for a stomach cancer treatment team, ask questions about the team's experience with your type of cancer.

Stomach Cancer: How to Find the Best Treatment Team

Find out why it's important to find the best treatment team when you are faced with stomach cancer.