Cancer

Signs and symptoms

Different cancers have different signs and symptoms, here you can watch young people talk about how they experienced cancer symptoms. 

Brain Tumours

There are a few different types and the ones that are more common in young people are astrocytomas and ependymomas (these both start in the supportive tissue of the brain). The most common symptoms are headaches, feeling sick, drowsiness and fits. The symptoms experienced depend on where the tumour is in the brain. The cause isn't known. 
 
Several of the young people we spoke to were diagnosed with brain tumours. They talked about the signs and symptoms that prompted them and their families to seek medical attention.

One of the young people who was later diagnosed with an ependynoma had severe back pain. The tumours were found in the spinal cord.

Hodgkin's disease (lymphoma)

Hodgkin's disease is a cancer of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of our immune system and is made up of a network of lymph vessels and glands as well as a number of organs. The most common symptoms are painless, swollen glands. The glands most likely to be affected are those in the neck, armpit, groin and chest. The cause is unknown. We interviewed a fourteen-year-old boy who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) is a cancer of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of our immune system (the system that fights off illness) and is made up of a network of lymph vessels and glands as well as a number of organs. The most common symptoms are painless, swollen lymph glands. The glands that are most likely to be affected are those in the neck, throat, chest and abdomen (belly). The cause isn't known. 

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One young man had a lot of back pain and was later diagnosed with Burkitt’s like lymphoma. A type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)

We have a few different types of white cell which help us fight infection and disease. ALL is a cancer of one of these white cells, the lymphoid cells. The most common symptoms are feeling tired, bruising and being prone to infection. Some people may also experience pain in their bones. The cause isn't known. 
 
We talked to several young people who had or are having treatment for ALL. Here they talked about the symptoms they had.

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)

White cells help us fight infection and disease. AML is a cancer of one of these white cells, the myeloid cells. The most common symptoms are feeling tired, bruising, being prone to infection and for some pain in their bones. The cause is not known. 

Cancer of the bone

There a number of different types of bone cancer but the ones that young people are most likely to develop are osteosarcoma and Ewing's sarcoma. We don't know what causes them but do know that the bones that tend to be affected are the leg and arm bones and the pelvis. The most common symptoms are pain and/or swelling around the bone. 
 
Two young people who were later diagnosed with osteosarcoma and Ewing's sarcoma respectively talked about what symptoms prompted them to go to their doctor.

Soft tissue sarcomas

Soft tissue sarcomas are cancers of our supportive tissue which includes muscle, cartilage, fat cells and blood vessels. The areas of the body that they usually affected are the legs and arms, the chest, pelvis and the head and neck area. There are lots of different types but the ones that most commonly affect young people are rhabdomyosarcomas, synovial sarcomas and fibrosarcomas. The first symptom is usually a painless lump or swelling. The cause is unknown.
 
We talked to a few young people who had been diagnosed with a soft tissue sarcoma.

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Testicular cancer

There are two main types - teratomas and seminomas; teratomas tend to affect younger men. The symptoms include a painless lump or swelling in the testicles. 
 
Two young men interviewed for our Testicular Cancer section talked about the signs and symptoms that prompted them to seek medical attention.

Other types of cancer

Occasionally cancer seems to have been discovered just 'by chance'. A young woman who was later diagnosed with a very rare cancer (ganglio neuroblatoma) explained that her cancer was found when she was having her back problems investigated.

Some cancers have symptoms that are hard to detect. For example, ovarian cancer can look like a stomach problem, irritable bowel syndrome (which is also called IBS) or gallstones.

We also interviewed one young woman who was diagnosed with malignant melanoma (skin cancer).

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Also see our sections on OvarianCervical and Testicular cancer for more experiences and information. 
 
Tips to others 

  • If you have any of these symptoms ask for a check up, even though the chances are against it being cancer. 
  • Keep a record of your symptoms (how long you have had them, how bad they are) so you can tell the doctor. 
  • Talk to your doctor about further investigations (e.g. blood tests or X-rays) if you are worried. 
  • Tell your doctor what you are worried about.  

The information about symptoms has kindly been provided by Macmillan Cancer Support from their 'Cancer info for teens and young adults' section. 

Last reviewed June 2012.

Last updated June 2012.

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