The importance of detecting cancer early

Our focus at the National Aspergillosis Centre is to raise awareness and support those with aspergillosis. Still, it is vital as an NHS organisation that we raise awareness of other conditions because, sadly, a diagnosis of aspergillosis does not make you impervious to everything else, and a chronic illness has the potential to mask the symptoms of other conditions like cancer.

The ever-growing pressure on the NHS, increased waiting times, a growing reluctance amongst many to seek medical attention, and a lack of understanding of the common symptoms of many cancers are all factors that can lead to an extended diagnostic interval, which in turn reduces treatment options. Therefore, earlier recognition of symptoms by patients is crucial in mitigating other factors that delay diagnosis.

It is important to note that not all alarm symptoms are cancer. Still, cancer incidence and mortality projections estimate that 1 in 2 people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, so last week at our monthly patient meeting, we talked about cancer and the most common symptoms. Inspired by the incredible work of the late Dame Deborah James on raising awareness and breaking down the taboo attached to bowel cancer, we have compiled the content from that talk into one article.

What is Cancer?

Cancer starts in our cells.

Usually, we have just the right number of each type of cell. This is because cells produce signals to control how much and how often the cells divide.

If any of these signals are faulty or missing, cells might start to grow and multiply too much and form a lump called a tumour.

Cancer Research UK, 2022

Cancer Statistics

  • Every two minutes, someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer.
  • Breast, prostate, lung and bowel cancers together accounted for over half (53%) of all new cancer cases in the UK in 2016-2018.
  • Half (50%) of people diagnosed with cancer in England and Wales survive their disease for ten years or more (2010-11).
  • Cancer is the cause of 27-28% of all deaths in England in a typical year.

Experts believe abdominal cancers – throat, stomach, bowel, pancreatic, ovarian – and urological cancers – prostate, kidney and bladder – are the most likely to go unrecognised.

The above chart shows cancer diagnoses by stage for some cancers in 2019 (the most current data). The stage of cancer relates to the size of the tumour and how far it has spread. Diagnosis at a later stage is related to lower survival.

Breast Cancer – Symptoms

  • A lump or thickening in the breast which is different to the rest of the breast tissue
  • Continuous breast pain in one part of the breast or armpit
  • One breast becomes larger or lower/higher than the other breast
  • Changes to the nipple – turning inward or changes shape or position
  • Puckering or dimpling to the breast
  • Swelling under the armpit or around the collarbone
  • A rash on or around the nipple
  • Discharge from one or both nipples

For more information visit:

Kidney Cancer – Symptoms

  • Blood in the urine
  • Low back pain on one side not through injury
  • A lump on the side or lower back
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever that is not caused by an infection and that doesn’t go away

For more information visit:

Lung cancer

The symptoms of lung cancer can be particularly hard to differentiate for patients with aspergillosis. It is important to report any new symptoms, such as a change to a long-term cough, weight loss and chest pain to your GP or specialist consultant.


  • A persistent cough that doesn’t go away after 2/3 weeks
  • A change in your long-term cough
  • Increased and persistent breathlessness
  • Coughing up blood
  • An ache or pain in the chest or shoulder
  • Repeated or persistent chest infection
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Hoarsness

For more information visit:

Ovarian Cancer – Symptoms

  • Persistent bloating
  • Feeling full quickly
  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Needing to wee more frequently
  • Fatigue

For more information visit:

Pancreatic Cancer

Some of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer can closely resemble those of bowel conditions such as irritable bowel. See your GP if your symptoms change, get worse, or do not feel normal for you.


  • Yellowing to the whites of your eyes or skin (jaundice)
  • Itchy skin, darker pee and paler poo than usual
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

Other symptoms can affect your digestion, such as:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Stomach and/or back pain
  • Indigestion
  • Bloating

For more information visit:

Prostate Cancer – Symptoms

  • Urinating more frequently, often during the night (nocturia)
  • Increased urgency to urinate
  • Urine hesitancy (difficulty starting to urinate)
  • Difficulty in passing urine
  • Weak flow
  • Feeling that your bladder has not emptied fully
  • Blood in urine or semen

For more information visit:

Skin Cancer

Patients who are on antifungal medication are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer, therefore it is important to understand the symptoms and take adequate precautions with sun exposure to reduce the risk.


There are three main types of skin cancer:

  • Malignant Melanoma
  • Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

Broadly, the signs are (shown in the image below):


  • Flat, raised or dome-shaped spot
  • Pearly or skin-coloured


  • Raised, crusty or scaly
  • Sometimes ulcerated


  • An abnormal mole that is asymmetrical, irregular and has multiple colours


Signs of skin cancer

For more information visit:

Throat Cancer

Throat cancer is a general term that means cancer that starts in the throat, however, Doctors don’t generally use it. This is because there are different types of cancer which can affect the area of the throat.

More information can be found here:

General symptoms

  • Sore throat
  • Ear pain
  • Lump in the neck
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Change in your voice
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • A cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • A feeling of something stuck in the throat

For more information visit:,something%20stuck%20in%20the%20throat.

Bladder Cancer – Symptoms

  • Increased urination
  • Urgency to urinate
  • A  burning sensation when passing urine
  • Pelvic pain
  • Flank pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Leg swelling

For more information visit:


Bowel Cancer – Symptoms

  • Bleeding from the bottom and/or blood in poo
  • A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • A pain or lump in the stomach

For more information visit:

(1)Smittenaar CR, Petersen KA, Stewart K, Moitt N. Cancer incidence and mortality projections in the UK until 2035. Br J Cancer 2016 Oct 25;115(9):1147-1155