Understand Your Body

Some cancers have screening programs to detect them early, but for other cancers you need to be aware of what is normal for you and see your doctor if you notice any unusual changes.

General changes to look out for

See your doctor if you notice unusual changes like:

  • The appearance of lumps anywhere on the body.
  • Sores or ulcers that won’t heal.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Moles or skin spots that change in size, shape or colour.
  • Changes to bladder and bowel habits or blood in motion.
  • A persistent cough or hoarseness that won’t go away.

Remember, you should see your doctor straight away if you notice any unusual changes – no matter your age or the time since your last check-up.

Checking your skin

Queensland is the skin cancer capital of the world, so it’s important to be SunSmart all year round. Nearly all skin cancers can be cured if detected and treated early.

Remember to check your skin regularly. See your doctor if you notice a freckle, mole or lump that is NEW or CHANGING in size, shape or colour; or a sore that does not heal over 4-6 weeks. Use a mirror to check hard to see spots, like your back and scalp, or get a family member, partner or friend to check for you.


Some changes to look for include:

  • NEW moles, freckles or lumps
  • moles, freckles or lumps that CHANGE in size, shape or colour
  • a pearly-coloured lump or slightly scaly area that is shiny and pale or bright pink in colour, it may bleed and be sore, and heal and then get sore again
  • a thickened red, scaly or crusted spot or rapidly growing lump, which may bleed and be sore and may be tender to touch
  • A new or existing spot, freckle or mole that has an irregular or smudged shape, and may be more than one colour
  • a red, pink, black or brown lump that feels firm to touch. It may be a raised lump on the surface of the skin, may bleed or develop a crusty surface
  • moles that change texture such as becoming raised or dome shaped, scaly, bleeding or itching

See our Spot the difference brochure for more information.

Be breast aware

Anyone can develop breast cancer. While it is much more common in women, men can also get breast cancer.

It’s important to be familiar with the normal look and feel of your breasts.

Look out for the following changes:

  • a lump, lumpiness or thickening, especially if it is in only one breast
  • a change in the shape or size of the breast
  • a change in the nipple, such as a change in shape, crusting, sore or ulcers, redness, a clear or bloody discharge, or a nipple that turns in (inverted) when it used to stick out.
  • a change in the skin of the breast such as dimpling or indentation, a rash, a scaly appearance, unusual redness or other colour changes.
  • swelling or discomfort in the armpit
  • ongoing unusual pain that is not related to your normal monthly menstrual cycle, remains after your period and occurs in one breast only

Most breast changes aren’t caused by cancer. If you have any symptoms, see you doctor without delay.

Early detection of prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Australian men. The risk of prostate cancer increases with age. It is uncommon in men younger than 50, although the risk is higher for younger men with a strong family history of prostate, breast or ovarian cancer.

Early prostate cancer rarely causes symptoms. Even when prostate cancer is advanced at the time of diagnosis there may be no symptoms. Symptoms of advanced prostate cancer may include:

  • unexplained weight loss
  • frequent or sudden need to urinate
  • blood in the urine or semen
  • pain in bones, especially the lower back, hips or pelvis

These are not always symptoms of prostate cancer, but you should see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

There is no single, simple test to detect prostate cancer. Two commonly used tests are the PSA blood test by your GP, and the digital rectal examination by a urologistThese tests, used separately or together, only show changes in the prostate. They do not diagnose cancer. If either tests show an abnormality, you will be referred to a urologist for further evaluation and tests.

Cancer screening is testing to look for cancer in people who don’t have any symptoms. The benefit of screening is that cancer can be treated early. It is important that this benefit outweighs any potential harms from treatment or its side effects. There is no national screening program for prostate cancer. Some people without any symptoms of prostate cancer choose to have regular PSA tests. Before having a PSA test, it is important to talk to your GP about the benefits and harms in your particular circumstances.

More information

For more information about early detection call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

The information available on this page should not be used as a substitute for advice from a properly qualified medical professional who can advise you about your own individual medical needs. It is not intended to constitute medical advice and is provided for general information purposes only. See our Disclaimer.