7 Cancer Symptoms You Should Never Ignore


Cancer remains a formidable challenge in healthcare, with its early detection being crucial in improving patient outcomes. As nurses, you play a vital role in recognizing and responding to cancer symptoms in patients.

This article highlights seven key symptoms that should never be overlooked. Your keen observation and prompt action in these cases can significantly impact the course of a patient’s treatment and recovery.

1. Unexplained Weight Loss

Sudden, unexplained weight loss can be an early warning sign of cancer. This is particularly concerning if you lose 10 pounds or more without changes in diet or exercise. Cancers such as pancreatic, stomach, esophagus, and lung are often associated with this symptom. If you experience such weight loss, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional for further evaluation.

2. Persistent Changes in Bowel or Bladder Habits

Long-term changes in bowel or bladder habits can indicate colorectal or bladder cancer. This includes chronic constipation, diarrhea, or a noticeable change in the consistency of your stool. Similarly, any changes in urinary habits, such as increased frequency, pain during urination, or blood in the urine, should be investigated. Persistent changes warrant a visit to your doctor.

3. Non-Healing Sores or Skin Changes

Sores that don’t heal, particularly in the mouth or on the skin, can be a sign of cancer. Skin changes, such as new moles, changes in existing moles, or any skin discoloration, should not be overlooked. These can be indicators of skin cancer, including melanoma, one of the deadliest forms. Regular self-examinations and dermatologist visits are recommended for early detection.

4. Unusual Bleeding or Discharge

Abnormal bleeding is a symptom that should always be taken seriously. This includes blood in the stool or urine, bleeding between menstrual cycles, or any unusual discharge. Such symptoms can be indicative of colorectal, bladder, or cervical cancer and should prompt immediate medical attention.

5. Persistent Cough or Hoarseness

A cough that persists for weeks, especially if accompanied by blood or a significant change in your voice, can be a sign of lung or throat cancer. This is particularly important for smokers and those exposed to heavy pollution. Early evaluation is key to ruling out serious conditions.

6. Difficulty Swallowing

Persistent trouble with swallowing can be an overlooked symptom of cancer, particularly of the throat, esophagus, or stomach. If you find swallowing increasingly difficult or painful, or if it’s accompanied by pain in your chest or throat, it’s important to see a doctor. This symptom can often be mistaken for a less serious condition, so it’s crucial to get it checked out.

7. Changes in Lymph Nodes

Enlarged lymph nodes, or lumps in the neck, armpits, or groin, can be a sign of changes in the lymphatic system, potentially indicating cancer. Lymphoma or leukemia, as well as other types of cancer that have spread to lymph nodes, often present with this symptom. Persistent swelling or lumps in these areas should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.


For nurses, understanding and identifying these symptoms is not just about medical knowledge—it’s about being the first line of defense in the fight against cancer. Your vigilance and ability to recognize these warning signs can lead to early intervention, which is crucial in the effective treatment of cancer. Remember, your insights and observations are invaluable in guiding patients towards timely and appropriate care. Keep educating yourselves and stay alert to ensure the best possible outcomes for those under your care.