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Early cancer warning signs

April 3, 2024
Early cancer warning signs
April 3, 2024

There’s no doubt cancer is on our minds right now. Not only is King Charles being treated for an undisclosed cancer, but so too is the Princess of Wales. 

In her statement she shared the following details of her discovery and treatment plan. She said:

‘In January, I underwent major abdominal surgery in London and at the time, it was thought that my condition was non-cancerous.

‘The surgery was successful. However, tests after the operation found cancer had been present. My medical team therefore advised that I should undergo a course of preventative chemotherapy and I am now in the early stages of that treatment.’

ZoomDoc’s team of GPs were saddened to hear this news but Chief Medical Officer, Dr Kenny Livingstone remains optimistic about her recovery and treatment.

‘Preventative chemotherapy is usually referred to as adjuvant chemotherapy. It’s an effective way to reduce the risk of cancer coming back after radiotherapy or surgery and as the Princess of Wales herself said, the surgery was successful and she is well and getting stronger every day,’ he says.

Although we do not know any further details about the type of cancer or the stage it is at, the news is a reminder to us all to be aware of cancer warning signs and to stay up to date with screening checks when they’re due.

‘Both King Charles and the Princess of Wales have reminded people that cancer can happen to anyone. Their diagnoses will hopefully have a noticeable impact on the general public getting unusual symptoms checked out sooner rather than later,’ says Dr Kenny.

Cancer Research UK also stresses the importance of being symptom aware and proactive if you have concerns. It says:

‘Cancer that’s diagnosed at an early stage, when it isn’t too large and hasn’t spread, is more likely to be treated successfully. Spotting cancer at an early stage saves lives, so it is important to tell your doctor as soon as possible if you notice anything that isn’t normal for you.’

With this in mind, here are some of the early warning signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for …


  • Long-lasting coughs


It’s important to be aware of any new or worrying symptoms. it’s important to speak to a GP so they can investigate.


Coughs can be common and take a couple of weeks to clear up. However, a persistent cough that lasts three weeks or longer should be checked out, according to NHS guidance, especially if it’s accompanied by chest pain and breathlessness. 

Are you lung cancer aware? Find out more here.

  • Changes in bowel habits

Any unusual changes for you with your bowel habits should be checked out, particularly if they include:

  • blood in your poo
  • not feeling fully emptied your bowels after going to the toilet
  • constipation or diarrhoea for no reason
  • bloating that lasts three weeks or more.
  • Bleeding

Unusual or unexpected bleeding or bruising should always be checked out. According to Cancer Research UK information, ‘this includes blood in your poo or pee, as well as vomiting or coughing up blood.’

It also includes:

‘Unexplained vaginal bleeding between periods, after sex or after the menopause.  No matter how much blood or what colour it is (blood can be red, or a darker colour like brown or black), speak to your doctor.’

  • Lumps or swellings

Most of us will know to check breasts for lumps regularly but if you notice persistent lumps or swelling anywhere, it should be checked out – either because it’s new or because it has changed shape or size since you last found it or had it checked.

‘This includes any lumps in the neck, armpit, stomach, groin, chest, breast, or testicle,’ according to Cancer Research UK advice.

Read more about the breast cancer awareness mistakes you might be making

Find out how to check for signs of testicular cancer

  • Moles


You should get your moles checked if: they are larger than most, have smudgy or irregular edges, or are uneven in colour.


Keeping an eye on moles is key for spotting melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Always get your moles checked by a doctor if they change shape, have an uneven outline or just don’t look or feel right to you.

Read more about skin cancer signs and symptoms.

  • Weight loss you cannot explain

If you’ve lost a noticeable amount of weight over a few months, without being able to put it down to diet, exercise or stress then do see your doctor. They might want to run some further tests to see what’s causing it.

  • Unexplained pain

‘As we get older, it’s more common to experience aches and pains. But unexplained or persistent pain anywhere in the body could be a sign of something more serious,’ says advice from Cancer Research UK. 

Persistent tummy or back pain that doesn’t respond to treatment such as physiotherapy or affects your bowel movements should always be checked out. 

  • Heartburn and indigestion

Because these are relatively common symptoms they can be easily ignored and put aside. However, persistent heartburn or acid reflux can be a sign of cancer as well as digestive problems.

NHS advice says ‘ you’re regularly affected by heartburn or indigestion’ or are ‘burping or hiccuping more than usual’, see your doctor.

  • Tiredness or fatigue


It’s normal to feel tired sometimes. But if you’re tired all the time and do not know why, it could be a sign of a problem.


Not all cancers have obvious symptoms such as lumps or bleeding. Tiredness and fatigue with no known explanation can be a sign that something is not right so do get checked out if tiredness is affecting your day to day abilities. 

  • Itchy or yellow skin

Itching, yellow-tinged skin or jaundice can be a sign or a liver infection or something more serious – cancer.

‘If your skin is itchy and your skin or the whites of your eyes turn yellow you must get this checked out,’ says NHS guidance.

  • Heavy night sweats or fever

According to Cancer Research UK advice, ‘very heavy, drenching night sweats, or an unexplained fever’ are worth getting checked out, particularly if they are not linked to a known illness, such as flu or are known to be symptoms of the menopause.

Cancer warning signs: when to see a doctor


You should see your GP if you’ve had a cough for more than 3 weeks, are coughing up blood, experience shortness of breath, or chest pain.


The list above is by no means an extensive list. Nor does it mean you have cancer if you have any of the symptoms mentioned above.

‘In most cases, unusual symptoms won’t be cancer, but if it is then your best chance of treating and beating it starts with finding it early,’ says Dr Kenny.

‘When it comes to your body, you know it best so if you do notice anything that isn’t normal for you, or something just doesn’t feel quite right, speak to your doctor,’ he says.

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