I am worried I have cancer

Cancer in teenagers and young adults accounts for around 1% of all cancer diagnoses. Around 2400 teenagers and young adults (aged 15-24) are diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK.

Young person

Many of the common symptoms of cancer are also symptoms of other, often less-serious illnesses. But being aware of the signs and symptoms of cancer is important, as it can help with earlier diagnosis and treatment. 

If you are worried about any changes in your body, it's important to get these checked out by your GP. If you have any of the symptoms below, especially if they last for a while or you can't explain them, you should make an appointment with your doctor.

Common symptoms

  • Pain, that doesn't go away quickly when you take painkillers
  • A lump or swelling anywhere on your body
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches or dizziness that won't go away
  • Changes to moles - for example changes in size or colour, or if they start bleeding
  • Changes to bowel habits (going to the toilet) that last for more than a few weeks
  • Unexplained bruising
  • Breathlessness
  • Symptoms that refuse to clear up, e.g. a cough or hoarseness that last for more than three weeks
  • Sweating a lot at night
  • Unexplained bleeding - for example coughing up blood, blood in your urine or poo, bleeding after sex, between periods or blood in your vomit if you are sick.

Common cancers

The most common cancer in young men aged 15-24 is testicular cancer, followed by Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukaemia. The most common cancers in young women aged 15-24 are melanomaHodgkin's lymphoma and ovarian cancer.

Testicular cancer

The most common symptoms of testicular cancer are:

  • a lump in the testicle
  • pain or discomfort
  • a heavy scrotum

Find out more about testicular cancer


The most common symptoms of melanoma are a mole that is:

  • getting bigger
  • changing shape, particularly getting an irregular edge
  • changing colour - getting darker, becoming patchy or having different colours
  • painful or itching
  • bleeding or becoming crusty
  • looking inflamed

Find out more about melanoma

Hodgkin lymphoma

The most common symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma are:

  • swelling in the neck, armpit or groin, that is usually painless
  • heavy sweating, especially at night
  • losing a lot of weight over a short period of time
  • high temperatures that come and go, often overnight, and with no obvious cause
  • itching, which may feel worse after drinking alcohol
  • coughing or breathlessness
  • abdominal pain or vomiting after drinking alcohol

Find out more about Hodgkin lymphoma

Ovarian cancer

The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • pain in the lower abdomen or side
  • bloated, full feeling in the abdomen
  • abdominal pain
  • back pain
  • passing urine more often than usual
  • constipation
  • pain during sex
  • a swollen abdomen
  • loss of appetite
  • irregular periods or unexplained vaginal bleeding

Find out more about ovarian cancer

Brain tumours

Brain tumours can be particularly hard to diagnose and can cause a number of different symptoms. A routine eye test by an optician can sometimes detect warning signs of pressure build-up at the back of the eye as a result of a brain tumour.

Signs and symptoms of brain tumours include:

  • Persistent or recurrent vomiting
  • Persistent or recurrent headache
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Blurred or double vision, or loss of vision
  • Balance/coordination/walking problems
  • Behaviour change
  • Fits or seizures
  • Delayed puberty

You can find out more about the signs and symptoms of brain tumours and what action to take on the HeadSmart website.

Find out more about brain tumours

Types of cancer

For more information about a specific type of cancer that affects teenagers and young adults, including common signs and symptoms, choose from the list below.

If you have any signs or symptoms that might be cancer, it's important to make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible. Your appointment might be in-person or over the phone/by video call. 

  • If it turns out not to be cancer, you haven’t wasted anyone’s time. You’ll still be listened to and taken seriously.
  • If it does turn out to be cancer, then getting diagnosed early is really important, as early treatment will improve the outcome. 

It's normal to feel nervous about speaking to your doctor. It can help to:

  • Write down what you want to say and ask beforehand
  • Make a note of your symptoms and when you started to feel unwell
  • Share as much information as possible – little details can make a big difference
  • Take a friend or someone from your family with you
  • Be open and honest – remember that doctors talk to people about all kinds of problems all day, every day
  • Ask your doctor to repeat anything you don’t understand
  • Make sure you know what will happen next before you leave

Getting diagnosed with cancer

Diagnosis means finding out whether you have cancer and, if so, what type of cancer you have. Doctors will do this by assessing you, and your symptoms, and by doing tests.

If you have symptoms that could be caused by cancer, you will be referred by your GP or local hospital to a specialist doctor in teenager and young adult cancer.

Getting diagnosed with cancer

Find out more about getting diagnosed with cancer, including what tests and scans you might have, and what happens next