Cancer Symptoms That Women Need to Know

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of cancer is important because early diagnosis and intervention can be life-saving. It’s also essential to stay current with cancer screening such as mammograms, pap smears, and colon cancer screening

While the symptoms mentioned in this article can be caused by benign (non-cancerous) conditions, it’s always best to see a healthcare provider if you are experiencing them. 

This article reviews symptoms of cancer in women including pelvic pain, bloating, lower back pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding and discharge, fever, night sweats, changes in bathroom habits, fatigue, and weight, vulva, and breast changes.

Pelvic Pain

woman with abdominal pain

BSIP/UIG/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Pain below the waist is normal near your period. But if it lasts longer than that, see a healthcare professional.

Pelvic pain (lower belly between the hips) is common for ovarian and endometrial (also called uterine) but can also be seen with these cancers:

Constant Bloating

Bloated woman
Nikodash/iStockphoto

Abdominal swelling and bloating are symptoms of ovarian cancer. Lots of things can cause your belly to bloat, so this is an easy symptom to overlook.

See a doctor if bloating is so bad that you can't button your pants or have to go up a size.

Lower Back Pain

Woman holding her lower back in pain

Dirima/Getty Images

Lower back pain often feels like a dull ache or labor pains. Check with a healthcare provider if the pain doesn't go away. It may be a symptom of ovarian cancer.

Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding or Discharge

pile of tampons

Image Source/Getty Images

Abnormal vaginal bleeding is a common symptom of gynecologic cancer. Heavy periods, bleeding between periods, and bleeding during and after sex are reasons to seek medical care.

Bleeding is linked to these cancers:

  • Cervical
  • Uterine
  • Ovarian
  • Vaginal

Fever or Night Sweats

Sick woman taking her temperature
Sam Edwards / Getty Images

If a fever lasts longer than seven days on and off, talk to your healthcare provider. A stubborn fever or night sweats can be a sign of cancer, especially leukemia and lymphoma.

Fevers caused by cancer can come in cycles. This is when you get a temperature around the same time each day. It may go away for a few days or weeks and then return. Other cancers that can be caused by cancer include:

Keep in mind that lots of other health conditions also cause fevers.

What are Night Sweats?

Night sweats are defined as sweating profusely during sleep. They are so severe that you have to change pajamas or bedding. While they can be caused by benign (non-cancerous) conditions, they should be reported to a healthcare provider.

Changes in Bathroom Habits

Woman looking concerned in bathroom
Domino/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Bowel (pooping) habits can change from time to time. If you notice any of these changes, mention them to a healthcare provider:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Gas
  • Thin or loose stools
  • Rectal bleeding (pooping blood)
  • A feeling that your bowel won't empty all the way
  • Changes in how often you have a bowel movement

These symptoms could be due to something you ate. This is especially true if you have:

  • Problems digesting dairy
  • Celiac disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

However, there is also a chance they may be related to gynecologic cancers such as vaginal, ovarian, or colon cancer.

Frequent or Urgent Urination (Peeing)

Ovarian and vaginal cancer can also cause more frequent or urgent urination (peeing).

Weight Change

Bathroom scales on tiled floor
Image Source / Getty Images

Your weight can go up and down throughout the month. But if you lose 10 pounds or more without trying, talk to a healthcare provider. Unexplained weight loss can be a symptom of the following types of cancer:

  • Ovarian
  • Colorectal
  • Pancreatic
  • Gastro-esophageal
  • Lung
  • Renal (kidney)
  • Myeloma (rare blood cancer)
  • Non-Hodgkins lymphoma
  • Biliary tree

Weight gain and weight cycling can also raise the risk of cancer in women after menopause. Weight cycling is a pattern of gaining then losing weight.

Vulva Changes

woman with pelvic pain laying down

 BSIP/Getty Images

It's a good idea to look at your vulva and vagina regularly. Watch for symptoms of vulvar cancer like these:

  • Sores, blisters, or lumps on the vulva
  • Blisters
  • Skin color changes
  • Skin changes that look like a rash or warts
  • Itching or burning
  • Bleeding on the vulva that does not go away
  • Discharge

Pelvic Pain After Urination or Sex

While pelvic pain that gets worse after urination or sex can be caused by benign (non-cancerous) conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), it can also be. sign of vulvar cancer.

Unusual Breast Changes

woman performing a self-breast exam

Ian Hootan/Getty Images

Changes in your breasts can indicate breast cancer. It is most common in women 50 years and older. Signs and symptoms to watch for during your monthly breast self-exam include:

  • Lumps (especially hard lumps)
  • Lumps that don't move easily or go away with menstrual cycle changes
  • Skin changes (redness, swelling, dry, thick, itchy rash)
  • Nipple discharge (when not pregnant or breastfeeding)
  • A nipple that turns inward
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or near the collarbone
  • Dimpling or puckering of the breast
  • Breast pain not related to your period (this is an extremely rare symptom).

If you notice any changes, discuss them with a healthcare professional right away.

Fatigue

Woman relaxing on sofa
Tara Moore/Taxi/Getty Images

Fatigue is a common cancer symptom. It's more common when ​cancer is advanced, but it can occur in the early stages. Cancer fatigue is different from being overly tired. It doesn't go away from a good night's sleep or caffeine. If fatigue keeps you from normal daily activities, it's best to talk to your healthcare provider.

While this is not an all-inclusive list, cancers that may cause fatigue include:

  • Leukemia
  • Lymphoma
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Some bone cancers
  • Colon (most likely from blood loss that leads to anemia)
  • Stomach (most likely from blood loss)
  • Metastatic (cancer that moves to another part of the body) lung
  • Metastatic ovarian
  • Some breast cancers'
  • Cancers that affect the endocrine or autonomic nervous systems

Summary

Symptoms such as pelvic pain, bloating, lower back pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding, vulva changes, and unusual breast changes can indicate gynecological (specific to the female reproductive system) cancers. 

Fever, night sweats, changes in bathroom habits, and weight changes can indicate cancers such as colon cancer, pancreatic, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and more. 

While the symptoms mentioned in this article can be caused by benign (non-cancerous) conditions, it’s always best to see a healthcare provider if you are experiencing them.

A Word From Verywell

Early treatment raises your chances of surviving cancer. That's why it's so important to notice and seek care for changes like these.

If you have pain, bloating, fever, bleeding, or changes to your bathroom habits, talk to a healthcare professional. The same goes for changes in your breasts, vulva, weight, or energy levels.

Chances are, your symptoms aren't cancer. But speaking up about your symptoms could lead to an early diagnosis and treatment if cancer is the culprit.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the four most common cancers in women?

    According to data from the National Cancer Institute, the top four cancers in women include breast, lung, colorectal, and skin.

  • What cancers have no symptoms?

    Many cancers including breast, ovarian, colorectal, and more can be asymptomatic (without symptoms), especially in early stages. This is why screening tests are important and genetic testing is often recommended for those at high risk.

  • How do you check for cancer?

    Because there are varying signs and symptoms of breast cancer, it’s important to know what is normal for you. This includes noting any pain, bloating, abnormal vaginal bleeding, fever, bathroom habits, weight loss, breast changes, and fatigue. Screening tests such as self breast exams, mammograms, pap smears, genetic testing (for those at high risk), and colon cancer screening can help with early detection of cancer.

Originally written by Lisa Fayed
Was this page helpful?
24 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gynecologic cancers: What are the symptoms?

  2. American Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of endometrial cancer.

  3. American Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer.

  4. Rexhepi M, Trajkovska E, Ismaili H, Besimi F, Rufati N. Primary fallopian tube carcinoma: a case report and literature reviewOpen Access Maced J Med Sci. 2017;5(3):344-8. doi:10.3889/oamjms.2017.044

  5. Dilley J, Burnell M, Gentry-Maharaj A, et al. Ovarian cancer symptoms, routes to diagnosis and survival - Population cohort study in the 'no screen' arm of the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS)Gynecol Oncol. 2020;158(2):316-322. doi:10.1016/j.ygyno.2020.05.002

  6. American Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer.

  7. Funston G, O'Flynn H, Ryan NAJ, Hamilton W, Crosbie EJ. Recognizing gynecological cancer in primary care: Risk factors, red flags, and referrals [published correction appears in Adv Ther. 2018 Apr 4;:]. Adv Ther. 2018;35(4):577-589. doi:10.1007/s12325-018-0683-3

  8. Ames NJ, Powers JH, Ranucci A, et al. A systematic approach for studying the signs and symptoms of fever in adult patients: the fever assessment tool (FAST). Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2017;15(1):84. doi:10.1186/s12955-017-0644-6

  9. Howell D, Warburton F, Ramirez A, Roman E, Smith A, Forbes L. Risk factors and time to symptomatic presentation in leukaemia, lymphoma and myelomaBr J Cancer. 2015;113(7):1114-20. doi:10.1038/bjc.2015.311

  10. Cancer Research UK. The cancer itself: Cancers that cause fever.

  11. Simon S. Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer. American Cancer Society.

  12. Catassi C, Alaedini A, Bojarski C, et al. The overlapping area of non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and wheat-sensitive irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): An update. Nutrients. 2017;9(11):1268. doi:10.3390/nu9111268

  13. Bosch X, Monclús E, Escoda O, et al. Unintentional weight loss: Clinical characteristics and outcomes in a prospective cohort of 2677 patientsPLoS One. 2017;12(4):e0175125. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0175125

  14. Nicholson B, Hamilton W, O’Sullivan J, Aveyard P, Hobbs F. Weight loss as a predictor of cancer in primary care: A systematic review and meta-analysisBritish Journal of General Practice. 2018;68(670):e311-e322. doi:10.3399/bjgp18X695801

  15. Welti LM, Beavers DP, Caan BJ, Sangi-Haghpeykar H, Vitolins MZ, Beavers KM. Weight fluctuation and cancer risk in postmenopausal women: The women's health initiativeCancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2017;26(5):779–786. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-16-0611

  16. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaginal and vulvar cancers: What are the symptoms?

  17. American Cancer Society. Breast cancer signs and symptoms.

  18. Sivarajah R, Welkie J, Mack J, Casas R, Paulishak M, Chetlen AL. A review of breast pain: Causes, imaging recommendations, and treatment. Journal of Breast Imaging. 2020;2(2):101-111. doi:10.1093/jbi/wbz082

  19. Bower JE. Cancer-related fatigue--mechanisms, risk factors, and treatmentsNat Rev Clin Oncol. 2014;11(10):597–609. doi:10.1038/nrclinonc.2014.127

  20. Cancers Treatment Centers of America. What causes cancer fatigue (and what to do about it).

  21. Alfayyad I, Al-Tannir M, Yaqub M, et al. Clinically significant fatigue in adult leukemia patients: prevalence, predictors, and impact on quality of life. Cureus. 2020;12(12): e12245. doi:10.7759/cureus.1224

  22. NIH National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program. Cancer stat facts: common cancer sites.

  23. NIH National Cancer Institute. Common cancer types.

  24. NIH National Cancer Institute. Cancer screening overview (PDQ) - Patient version.