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signs and symptoms

Symptoms you need to stop hiding from your doctor

Everyone knows our NHS is stretched and no one wants to waste their doctor's time, but there are some things your GP really wants to know about. This is by no means a comprehensive list but here is my top 10 list of symptoms not to ignore.

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A breast lump

To be fair, there is nothing that gets a woman through my surgery door faster than a new-found lump in the breast. Thankfully most are benign. In fact, nine out of 10 lumps that are seen by specialists are not cancer. But it is important to be breast-aware and report any new change to your GP straightaway.

Breast cancer does affect men but it's about 150 times less common in men than women. Nonetheless, if you're a man and develop a new lump, the same principles apply - get it checked with your GP.

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A testicular lump

Just like breast lumps, lumps on the testicles are alarming but luckily most turn out to be completely benign. However, unlike the majority of cancers, testicular cancer can strike young. So chaps, get into the habit of examining your bits and make sure you tell your GP if you find anything untoward.

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Blood in your poo

Blood in your poo may be bright red or tarry black. It can be mixed in with the stool, fresh in the pan or just on the paper. The most common explanation will be haemorrhoids, more commonly known as piles. But this symptom can also be one of the early signs of bowel cancer. It's important to get checked out, because cancer diagnosed early is more easily cured. So even if it only happens once, go to see your doctor.

Do I really need to see my doctor?

Blood in your pee

Blood in your pee may look pale pink, bright red or even dark brown like the colour of cola. And whilst the most likely cause will be infection or inflammation, it could also be a sign of bladder or kidney cancer.

Importantly, in the early stages of kidney or bladder cancer, blood may come and go. So get into the habit of checking and always report any possible blood to your doctor, even if you saw it once and it's disappeared.

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A changing mole

Any mole that changes shape, size or colour or that starts to itch or bleed needs looking at. This applies to a new mole you haven't seen before, or changes in an existing mole. Get into the habit of checking your moles regularly and always report any change to a doctor.

Unexplained weight loss

It may feel great if suddenly you lose weight without trying but anyone who loses half a stone or more without an obvious explanation needs to see a doctor. If you have other accompanying symptoms, such as being off your food, a change in your bowel habit (usually to looser or more frequent bowel movements) or tummy pain, it's all the more urgent.

But unexplained weight loss needs looking into even if you don't have any other symptoms. It may simply be that your thyroid gland has become overactive but it can also be a sign of underlying cancer.

An unexplained fever

If you have a cough or a cold you may expect to have a temperature or if you are menopausal you are likely to suffer night sweats. But if you develop a fever without an obvious cause, your GP will want to do some tests to rule out cancer or an unusual infection.

A sore throat or mouth ulcer that won't leave

A sore throat that lasts for more than three weeks or a mouth ulcer that doesn't heal over the same time frame, needs to be checked out by your doctor or dentist to exclude the possibility of cancer.

A persistent cough

Especially in smokers, anyone with a persistent cough needs investigating to rule out cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is easy to put this symptom down as a 'smoker's cough' but it is not normal to be coughing every day and it needs checking out.

An expanding waistline

This may not seem like a symptom but women with a waist greater than 31.5 inches and men greater than 37 inches are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Because the early symptoms of type 2 diabetes are often vague and fairly mild (feeling a bit tired, being more thirsty than usual, developing minor infections like boils or recurrent thrush) it's easy to miss them or ignore them.

But if you have type 2 diabetes and aren't treated, you're putting yourself at risk of kidney, eye and nerve damage, as well as heart attack and stroke. It is thought that one in four people with diabetes in the UK are not yet diagnosed, so check your waistline today. If you are at risk, make an appointment to see your doctor or nurse and take a urine sample along with you.

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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