20 Surprising Cancer Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore

Knowing these symptoms could save your life.

Close to 1.7 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed in the United States alone each year. And while many people follow basic healthy living protocols that minimize their risk, like getting adequate exercise, eating a balanced diet, and skipping the smokes, there are countless forms of cancer that can't readily be prevented by lifestyle changes alone.

Scarier yet, many symptoms of cancer go unnoticed until they've spread throughout the body. What you assume to be an exercise injury, the symptom of a common cold, or a minor dermatological problem could be something more serious lurking below the surface. The good news? When you know to look out for these surprising cancer symptoms, you increase your chances of living a long, healthy life. And when you want to increase your health and longevity on a daily basis, check out the 100 Amazing Ways to Live to 100!

Unexplained Weight Loss

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While many people assume that easy weight loss is a good thing, in many cases, it's a sign of something more serious. Unexplained weight loss, particularly in the double-digit range, can be an early sign of certain types of cancer. Cancers of the esophagus, throat, and stomach can present with difficulty swallowing or feelings of fullness, often causing significant unintended weight loss. Colon cancer is also a frequent contributor to unintentional weight loss, thanks to the changes it can cause in your digestive habits. Ready to start on a healthier path? The 100 Easy Ways to Be a (Much) Healthier Man make it easy.

Excessive Fatigue


Between work, social commitments, running errands, and trips to the gym, your average daily activities are enough to make anyone feel wiped out. However, if you feel like you can't get out of bed, or find yourself needing a significant amount of extra rest, it might be the sign of something more serious.

While certain cancers, like lymphoma, leukemia, and thyroid cancer, are known energy-sappers, virtually any type of cancer can wipe a person out. If you're feeling significantly more fatigued than usual, check in with your doctor to make sure something serious isn't causing your symptoms. And when you want to rid yourself of your run-of-the-mill fatigue, start with the 25 Non-Coffee Ways to Boost Your Energy Levels.


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While there are countless medical issues leading to the three million anemia diagnoses in America, cancer can occasionally be a contributing factor to this common ailment. Cancers involving the blood and bone marrow, including bone cancer, myeloma, leukemia, and lymphoma, can all contribute to the underproduction of healthy red blood cells. Bleeding in the digestive tract caused by stomach and colon cancer can also contribute to anemia. However, when you want to take charge of your well-being for good, this is The Single Best Thing for Your Health.

Numbness in Extremities

Hands with Rheumatoid Arthritis

If your hands and feet become suddenly numb, it's time to high-tail it to your doctor. While there are more-common explanations for extremity numbness, including pinched nerves and diabetes, tumors of the brain and spine can also limit the functionality of certain nerves, causing numbness. Either way, it's worth speaking to a medical professional about. And when you want to save your life, make sure you're asking for the 9 Medical Tests You Should Always Demand From Your Doctor!

Night Sweats

Sweaty man cancer symptoms

Waking up sweaty when your A/C breaks is normal. Waking up drenched every single night is not. Although many conditions, from hypothyroidism to menopause, can make it difficult to maintain your body's normal temperature, cancer may also be the cause of this unpleasant symptom.

Severe night sweats are often one of the first symptoms people notice before discovering they have lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Of course, night sweats aren't the only thing that may be standing between you and a restful night—just check out the 40 Ways Your Sleep Changes After 40.


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Is that bloated belly the result of last night's trip to Chipotle or something more serious? Although bloating has many causes, from hormonal changes to increased salt intake, it can also be a symptom of digestive cancers, like colon and stomach cancers, as well as cancers of the reproductive system and pancreas. And for more great health advice, here's The All-New Medical Test That Can Pinpoint Your True Age. 

A Lump in Your Throat

thyroid woman getting neck ultrasound

We all get a lump in our throats from time to time, whether we're re-watching The Notebook or going through a tough breakup. When you have what feels like a permanent one, however, it's time to get that checked out. Thyroid, esophageal, and throat cancer can all present with a feeling like something is stuck in your throat.

Enlarged Lymph Nodes

Swollen lymph nodes surprising cancer symptoms

While we often think of pronounced lumps as being the most obvious signs of cancer, even a swollen lymph node might indicate that you're dealing with something serious. Many cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma, and cancers of the blood are first diagnosed when patients see a doctor for swollen lymph nodes.

Facial Swelling

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That puffy face might be more than the result of last night's salty snack binge. When tumors restrict blood flow, particularly to the superior vena cava, many people experience pronounced facial swelling. This is most commonly caused by cancers of the thyroid, lung, and breast, although cancers like lymphoma and renal cancer have been known to cause facial swelling, as well.

Vision Changes

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Although many people experience vision changes with age, if you find yourself with sudden vision issues, your doctor needs to be informed. Brain and optic nerve tumors can put pressure on the eyes, causing rapid and severe vision changes. And if you've had a cancer scare of late and are looking for a healthier path, here are 40 Life Changes You Should Make After 40.


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If you find yourself unable to make it to the bathroom, make it a point to see your doctor ASAP. Although age and pregnancy can play a role in the development of incontinence, it may also be a sign of certain cancers. Prostate cancer, bladder cancer, and certain reproductive tumors can all cause incontinence. Unfortunately, many cancer treatments can make it worse before it gets better.

Pitted Skin

Breast check

While skin changes can be the result of anything from sun exposure to hormonal changes, skin changes, particularly around the chest, needs to be addressed by a doctor as soon as possible. Sudden skin changes, including pitted skin, known as peau d'orange, can often be a sign of breast cancer.

Difficulty Swallowing

Woman Eating Almond Anti-Aging

Difficulty swallowing can accompany run-of-the-mill colds, but it may be a sign of something more serious, as well. Esophageal and throat cancer can often make swallowing difficult, and unfortunately, the symptoms of these cancers often go undetected until it's too late. Even if you think it's minor, if you're having a hard time swallowing or find yourself choking on your food, it's time to talk to your doctor.

Pain Under Your Ribs

Rib pain surprising cancer symptom

Rib pain can come from many sources, from vigorous workouts to sleeping in strange positions. Unfortunately, it can often be a sign of certain cancers, too. Liver cancer often presents with pain below the right side of the rib cage, while bone cancer can cause pain in the ribs themselves.

A Lump in the Armpit

Armpit lump surprising cancer symptoms

While many people know to check the breast area for potentially-cancerous lumps, the armpit is an often-overlooked location of cancerous tissue. If you find a lump in your armpit, it's worth having checked out and potentially biopsied. Not only is breast cancer often detected in the armpit, the swollen lymph nodes associated with cancers like lymphoma often show up there, as well.


Petechiae on arm surprising cancer symptoms

If you find small, pinpoint-like bruises cropping up for no discernible reason, it's time to talk to your doctor. Petechiae, or small spots of subcutaneous bleeding, can often be a sign of cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, and are often initially mistaken for rashes or other minor dermatological issues.

Bone Pain

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Those aches and pains in your bones might be more than the result of you getting older. Bone pain is one of the major symptoms of bone cancer, so if you have persistent pain in your bones without any accompanying injury, it's time to talk to your doctor.


Woman with Doctor

While seizures are generally associated with epilepsy, they can also be a symptom of certain cancers, as well. Brain tumors can often trigger seizures, so if you don't have an epilepsy diagnosis but find yourself suffering seizures, it's time to speak to a specialist.

Persistent Coughing

Woman Coughing in Bed

That nagging cough that won't go away is well worth consulting a medical professional about. Lung and thyroid cancers are often identified because they're accompanied by a cough that won't go away with over-the-counter treatments or time.

Skin Color Changes

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While people pay good money to achieve a golden glow, a yellow one is cause for concern. Liver cancer, particularly in the later stages, can cause severe jaundice, giving the skin a yellow hue. Blue skin, on the other hand, is often a symptom of respiratory cancer, indicating a lack of oxygenated blood. And when you want to start improving your whole-body health, ditch the 40 Unhealthiest Foods if You're Over 40 from your menu.

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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