Know the signs and symptoms of cancer

What is cancer?

“Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells.”

Cancers can be broadly classified as: tumors of solid organs, for example cancers of the breast, lung and colon or cancers of the blood, lymph nodes (hematologic cancers), including leukemia, myeloma and lymphoma.

What are my chances of getting cancer?

The number of new cancer cases diagnosed in South Africa each year is estimated at 202 per 100,000 people in our country. South Africa’s estimated new cases of all types of cancer for 2020 were estimated at 116,391, with breast, prostate, colon, cervical and lung cancers accounting for 51% of all cancers diagnosed. This number of new cases is increasing every year, mainly due to two factors, namely our population living longer and aging and general lifestyle problems and urbanization.

The number of people currently being treated and living with cancer is about double that of new cases.

The challenge in South Africa is to create greater cancer awareness and understand the warning signs that cancer can cause. The earlier cancer is diagnosed by your doctor, the better the outcome of treatment.

Health advice

As you take responsibility for your own health, consider the following lifestyle issues as relevant to cancer prevention:

Cigarette smoking (tobacco use) which can not only cause lung cancer, but has been proven to increase the risk of other cancers. Overexposure to the sun that can cause skin cancers, including malignant melanoma. Unprotected sexual relations with multiple partners. Environmental and Occupational Hazards and Practices.

Lifestyle issues that may have a preventive effect on cancer include:

A healthy diet with lots of salads, vegetables and fruits and less fat. Maintaining a lean body with a normal weight or BMI – obesity is a risk factor. Regular exercise. Moderate alcohol consumption.

When should I suspect cancer?

See your doctor immediately if you get any of the symptoms below. Cancer may not necessarily be the reason for the symptom, but you should be aware of it and not ignore it:


Unexplained weight loss or muscle loss. Fever and sweating whose origin cannot be determined, especially at night. Paleness and weakness from unnoticed blood loss. Yellow jaundice. Unexplained generalized itching. Any abnormal bleeding – coughing up blood, blood in your stool. Blood in your urine.


Watch out for moles of uneven color, irregular edges, or breakouts (ulceration) on the surface that change size and appear to enlarge. Any sore or sore that does not heal or grow quickly.


Any new persistent irritating cough or shortness of breath – especially in a smoker. Coughing up blood.

Stomach and intestines

Any new difficulty or pain when swallowing. Any bleeding from the rectum when passing stool. Recent onset of constipation or change in bowel habits. persistent


Skin dimples. Lump – no matter how ‘benign’ it may feel. Nipple: Any new inversion or discharge both severe and bloody.


Recurrent nighttime or early morning headaches. Blurry sight. Recent onset of attacks. Any neurological disorder.


Vaginal bleeding, especially after menopause. Any pain or lump around the pelvis. Change in bowel or bladder function. Persistent or recurring discharge.


Lesions on the lips or in the mouth or tongue that do not heal. Blood in the urine. Any new and unexplained nodules or swollen lymph nodes that do not disappear after a course of antibiotics.

Cancer in children

Childhood cancer is relatively rare: only about 2 percent of all cancers in western industrialized countries occur in children. About 150 new cases for every 1 million children in the United States are diagnosed with cancer each year.

While cancer can develop in children of any age, certain cancers have a preference for specific age groups. For example, neuroblastoma, retinoblastoma, and Wilms tumor are most common in children between birth and age four, while osteosarcoma, Ewing’s sarcoma, and Hodgkin’s disease are most common in children over age 10.

The childhood cancer survival rate is now over 75% in developed countries and can be seen as one of the great success stories of modern medicine. This success can be contributed to newer innovative cancer drugs, better diagnostics and better aftercare of children with cancer.

Symptoms that may indicate cancer

Due to the relative rarity of childhood malignancies and the signs and symptoms that are often non-specific and may resemble those of common childhood diseases, the primary care physician should maintain a high level of suspicion.

A prompt/early diagnosis of cancer in a child greatly increases the child’s chance of surviving cancer. The Pediatric-Oncology Resource Center therefore published a list of symptoms and mnemonic device “CHILDCANCER”, of childhood cancer, which should alert the physician to keep cancer in mind when evaluating a child with any of these symptoms and signs. :

Persistent, unexplained weight loss Headache, often with early morning vomiting Increased swelling or persistent pain in bones, joints, back or legs Lumps or masses, especially in the abdomen, neck, chest, pelvis, or armpits Development of excessive bruising, bleeding, or rash Constant infections A whitish color behind the pupil Nausea that persists or vomiting without nausea Constant tiredness or noticeable paleness Changes in eyes or vision that come on suddenly and persist Recurring or persistent fever of unknown origin

If your child shows one or more of these symptoms, do not hesitate to consult your doctor.

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