Symptoms to watch out for

One of the most crucial factors in the fight against cancer is catching it early. If you are worried that you may have cancer, or want to know what to look out for, we have compiled a list of the most common early-warning signs. If you have any of the symptoms below and they last for three weeks or more without responding to medicine, make an appointment to see your GP or family doctor. 

Remember that these symptoms do not mean you have cancer, but we do recommend getting checked by your doctor rather than wait. 

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  • Sore throat / hoarse voice
  • Lump in the neck
  • Ear pain
  • Red / white patches in the throat
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Stiff jaw
  • Unexplained bleeding in the mouth or throat
  • Loose teeth
  • Constant bad breath
  • Ulcers in the mouth which do not heal

The symptoms for throat cancers are quite commonplace and symptomatic of many conditions which are not cancer. If any of the above cause concern, please contact your GP straight away.


Usually, your initial contact should be with your GP or family doctor. They will ask you about your symptoms and general health and will, if necessary, do some investigation of your ear, nose, throat and lymph glands.

It may be helpful to be prepared for your appointment, as your doctor will ask you to be as accurate as possible with the details of your concerns:

How long have you had the symptoms?

Have you been on any medication for the symptoms? Has it helped?

You may also be asked questions about your lifestyle. For example, if you smoke or drink, if you are sexually active, what it is you do for work. Although it can be uncomfortable answering personal questions, it is important to be completely honest with your doctor or health professional. The more information they have, even if it seems irrelevant, the easier it is for them to make an accurate diagnosis.

Your GP may opt to treat you with medicine – like antibiotics or steroids – or ask you to see if the symptoms stop or develop further. This is not unusual. Many illnesses share the same symptoms as cancer (some symptoms may be entirely innocent) so your GP may want to see if they go away on their own or with medication.

If symptoms persist and do not improve with any prescribed treatment then you should make another appointment and your GP will investigate further. 


If your doctor finds cause for concern when investigating your symptoms, they may refer you to a specialist at your local hospital. The specialist will then do more detailed tests to get an accurate diagnosis of the problem, if any. 

Again, it is important to remember that being referred does not mean you have cancer, and that other less-harmful illnesses may be to blame.

This can be an uncertain time for patients and their loved ones. Just keep in mind that the sooner doctors can establish the cause and treat you for it, the better – no matter what illness you may have.

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