With the coronavirus pandemic, less and less people are visiting their doctor with symptoms...

Identifying potential signs of cancer early is key to successful treatment and recovery. Here are some potential cancer symptoms to watch for…

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Little known cancer symptoms to look out for

A sore that doesn’t heal

A non-healing sore or area of skin can be a sign of skin cancer – our most common cancer. Rates have increased significantly  over the years, but there’s a very high cure rate because it’s very treatable and easier to spot than many cancers. 

Skin cancers look very different and symptoms vary. As well as a sore, watch for new (or changes to existing) moles, lumps or red/itchy patches of skin.

Most skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun. Protect your skin with sunscreen (SPF 30+, four or five-star UVA rating), hats and clothing. Or stay out of the sun and make sure you don’t burn.

Sunscreen isn’t just for summer, says dermatologist Dr Adam Friedmann. ‘You should start using it from early March to mid-November. The UK sun is strong enough during this period to cause damage. The fairer you are, the more sunscreen you need.’

Don’t ignore non-healing mouth ulcers either. They can signal mouth cancer, which affects 7,800 people a year in the UK, mainly the over-60s.

Feeling breathless

Lung cancer is the UK’s third most common cancer, affecting 47,200 people a year – almost half of them women. One of the main symptoms is breathlessness – a cough and weight loss are others.

Little-known cancer symptoms

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Two-thirds of cases are already too advanced for curative treatment by the time they’re diagnosed, says Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones. ‘So it’s really important to act on early symptoms – even if you don’t smoke.’  Feeling breathless can also be a sign of other lung or heart problems, or asthma, so it’s important to visit your GP for tests.

A low-fat, high-fibre diet with plenty of wholegrain has been shown to reduce lung cancer risk. One study revealed that a daily cup of natural yogurt may slash cancer risk by more than 30%. Stop smoking. More than 70% of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking. The NHS has free services to help you quit. Visit nhs.uk/smokefree.

Repeated infections

Do you pick up infections, such as coughs and colds easily? Or find that they last a long time and are difficult to shake off? This can be one of the signs of leukaemia, which affects 10,000 people in the UK every year. 

Other symptoms can be vague and flu-like, such as general weakness and tiredness, a high temperature and bruising or  bleeding easily. Survival rates have quadrupled in the past 40 years thanks to swift detection and treatment. ‘Almost half the UK’s 10,000 yearly new cases now survive for at least 10 years,’ says Dr Mel. So it’s important to get symptoms checked with your doctor. 

Regular urinary tract infections may be a symptom of bladder or kidney cancer, and may be missed, according to recent research from Cambridge University. Other common symptoms of both is blood in your urine, which may come and go, so if you’ve ever seen this go to your doctor.


Indigestion affects around a third of us but this common ailment can be a sign of oesophagus (food pipe) cancer – the developed world’s fastest rising cancer. Most of the UK’s 9,100 diagnosed cases a year are in the over-60s.

It’s important to stress that the majority of people who suffer heartburn do not have cancer. But it’s crucial to see your doctor about getting it treated because persistent acid reflux can lead to a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus, which may raise your cancer risk.

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‘Heartburn is usually caused by stomach acid flowing up into the gullet (oesophagus) and burning its delicate lining,’ says Dr Mel. Reduce the risk of this happening by eating smaller portions and avoid eating later in evenings.

Try to reduce stress. It can boost stomach acid production. Antiacids and PPIs can help acute heartburn. Discuss with your doctor. And, cut your risk of this cancer by trying to avoid being overweight, smoking or drinking too much alcohol.


Persistent bloating is one of the key signs of ovarian cancer, which affects one in 50 women aged 50 plus. Sadly only 35% of women with ovarian cancer survive for 10 years or more – and one of the main reasons for this is lack of awareness. Spotting the symptoms early and seeking help is crucial to help raise UK survival rates, which are among the lowest in the world.

Little-known cancer symptoms

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‘Symptoms of ovarian cancer can be vague and are often confused with other problems, such as a bladder infection or irritable bowel syndrome,’ says Valerie Lang, nurse adviser at Target Ovarian Cancer.

Also watch for feeling full quickly, loss of appetite, pelvic or abdominal pain and needing to pee more often or urgently than usual.

Tell your GP about a family history. ‘There are genetic mutations (changes in the genes) that increase a woman’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer,’ explains Valerie. The best known are BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Worried? Talk to Cancer Research UK nurses on 0808 800 4040. Or visit cancer researchuk.org for more information.