Cancer is an unregulated growth of a previously normal set of body cells. Oncology is the study, diagnosis, and
management of cancers or tumours. It is important to note that any organ or system as well as any individual can be
affected by cancer. This section will outline major symptoms and signs of cancer, key population groups affected, ways to mitigate risk of cancer and provide an overview of common cancers in adults and children.

Special Groups at Increased Risk of Cancer

  • HIV-positive patients
  • Albinos
  • Age group >65 years
  • Women (breast and cervical)
  • Smokers
  • Alcoholics
  • Consistent occupational exposure to toxins and/or radioactive material

Note: Routine screening is recommended for these groups

Early Signs and Symptoms

Cancer should be investigated in an individual with the following symptoms having occurred for >2 weeks:

  • Sudden weight loss
  • Painless or painful swelling, lump, or thickening
  • Sores that fail to heal
  • Abnormal bleeding or discharge
  • Persistent indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
  • Change in normal bowel or bladder habits
  • Chronic ulcers
  • Chronic pain
  • Change in a skin wart or mole

Urgent Signs and Symptoms

Urgent referral for a possible cancer malignancy might be necessary in patients with any of the following:

Haematological Neutropenia, anaemia, infection,
bleeding, hyperviscosity, leukocytosis
>50 x 106
(excluding TB)
Coughing blood, superior vena cava
Upper GI Tract Chronic GI bleeding and bowel
habit changes, dysphagia, persistent
vomiting, unexplained pain and
weight loss, abdominal mass without
dyspepsia, obstructive jaundice
Lower GI Tract Bleeding and bowel habit changes,
palpable rectal mass, unexplained iron
deficiency anaemia
Breast Discrete hard lump with fixation,
eczematous skin and nipple changes,
unilateral nipple discharge
Gynaecology Postmenopausal bleeding, persistent
intramenstrual bleeding, vulval lump
and bleeding
Urology Hard irregular prostate, urinary
symptoms, macroscopic haematuria,
swelling or mass in testes, or any
abdominal mass along urological tract
Progressive neurological deficit, new
onset seizures, headaches, mental
changes, unilateral deafness, and signs
of raised intracranial pressure (e.g.,
vomiting, drowsiness, posture-related
headache, tinnitus, and other CNS