Unknown Primary: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 02/2019

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.

Because CUP can appear anywhere in the body, the first symptoms can be very different from person to person. Usually, symptoms are related to the areas of the body where the cancer is found. Common sites of cancer involvement include the liver, lungs, bones, or lymph nodes. Symptoms or signs may include any of those listed below. Sometimes, people with CUP do not have any of these changes. Or, the cause of a symptom may be a different medical condition that is not cancer.    

  • Long-lasting pain in a specific area of the body

  • Loss of appetite

  • 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 any changes you experience, 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 figure 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 be called palliative care or supportive care. It is often started soon after diagnosis and continued throughout treatment. Be sure to talk with your health care team about the symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.