Updated 14 December 2016

Top warning signs of cancer

For many cancers, there are warning signs and symptoms, and the benefits of early detection are indisputable. Here's what you need to know.

For many cancers, there are warning signs and symptoms, and the benefits of early detection are indisputable. It is important for individuals, communities, health professionals and policy makers to be aware of, and educated in recognising the general signs and symptoms for cancer. 

Here are the top signs and symptoms you should look out for, courtesy of the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa):

Warning signs for adult cancer

 - Change in a wart or mole
 - Any continued fever
 - Nagging cough or continued hoarseness
 - Chronic pain in bones or in other area of the body
 - Enduring nausea, fatigue or vomiting
 - Repeated infection and/or inflammation
 - Change in bowel or bladder habits
 - A sore that does not heal
 - Unusual discharge or abnormal bleeding
 - Thickening or lump in the breast, testicles or elsewhere
 - Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
 - Obvious change in the size, shape, colour or thickness of a wart, mole or mouth sore
 - Noticeable weight loss and loss of appetite

Warning signs for childhood cancer (under 15 years of age)

 - Continued, unexplained weight loss
 - Headaches, often with vomiting (early night/early morning)
 - Increased swelling or pain in back, bones, joints or legs
 - Lump/mass in abdomen, neck, chest, pelvis or armpits
 - Development of excessive bruising, bleeding or rash
 - Constant infections
 - A whitish colour behind the pupil
 - Nausea which persists or nausea without vomiting
 - Constant tiredness or noticeable paleness
 - Eye or vision changes (occurs suddenly, and persists)
 - Recurrent fevers of unknown origin

While some symptoms mentioned above might be caused by another health problem, if you notice one or more if the above symptoms persists, it is important to see a health professional without delay.

For more information visit or join Cansa on Facebook and Twitter.

(Photo of mother and child from Shutterstock)


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Cancer expert

CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa. Its mission is to be the preferred non-profit organisation that enables research, educates the public and provides support to all people affected by cancer. Questions are answered by CANSA’s Head of Health Professor Michael Herbst. For more information, visit

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