Unknown Primary: Symptoms and Signs

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 03/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Because CUP can appear anywhere in the body, the initial symptoms vary. Usually, symptoms are related to the area of the body where the cancer is found, most commonly the liver, lungs, bones, or lymph nodes. These symptoms or signs may include the following. Sometimes, people with CUP do not show any of these symptoms. Or, these symptoms may be caused by a medical condition that is not cancer.

  • Long-lasting pain in a specific area of the body
  • Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss
  • A cough or hoarseness that doesn’t go away
  • Thickening or lump in any part of the body
  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge
  • Recurring fever or night sweats

If you are concerned about one or more of the symptoms or signs on this list, please talk with your doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help find out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

If cancer is diagnosed, a person's signs and symptoms often help the doctor plan effective treatment, even when the primary site cannot be found. Relieving symptoms is also an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care. Be sure to talk with your health care team about symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section helps explain what tests and scans may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Diagnosis, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.