Cancer Symptoms That Women Need to Know

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of cancer is important because early diagnosis and intervention can be lifesaving. 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 (noncancerous) 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, low-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

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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 (a type of uterine cancer) but can also be experience with these cancers:

Constant Bloating

Bloated woman

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

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

Low-Back Pain

Woman holding her lower back in pain

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Low-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

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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 here is linked to these cancers:

  • Cervical
  • Uterine
  • Ovarian
  • Vaginal

Fever or Night Sweats

Sick woman taking her temperature
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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 conditions, they should be reported to a healthcare provider.

Changes in Bathroom Habits

Woman looking concerned in bathroom
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Bowel 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
  • 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 (gluten sensitivity)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis)

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

Frequent or Urgent Urination

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

Weight Change

Bathroom scales on tiled floor
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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
  • Gastroesophageal
  • Lung
  • Renal (kidney)
  • Myeloma (rare blood cancer)
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • Biliary tree (system of ducts, organs, and other structures that produce, store, secrete, and transport bile)

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. Look 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 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.


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 with 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


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-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and more. 

While the symptoms mentioned in this article can be caused by noncancerous 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 them 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, and colorectal, can be asymptomatic (without symptoms), especially in early stages. This is why regular screenings 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. Routine screenings such as breast self-exams, mammograms, Pap smears, genetic testing (for those at high risk), and colon cancer screening can help with early detection of cancer.

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.
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By Brandi Jones, MSN-ED RN-BC
Brandi is a nurse and the owner of Brandi Jones LLC. She specializes in health and wellness writing including blogs, articles, and education.

Originally written by Lisa Fayed