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What are the symptoms?

Symptoms are different for everyone and are related to the area where the secondary cancer is found. Some people with CUP have few or no symptoms; others have a range of symptoms that may include:

  • feeling very tired (fatigue)
  • poor appetite and/or feeling sick (nausea)
  • unexplained weight loss
  • shortness of breath or discomfort in the chest
  • cough
  • pain in the bones, back, head, abdomen or elsewhere
  • swelling of the abdomen
  • change in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhoea
  • yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, chest or groin.

Not everyone with the symptoms listed above will have cancer, but see your general practitioner (GP) if you are concerned.

Which health professionals will I see?

Your general practitioner (GP) will arrange the first tests. If these tests do not rule out cancer, you will usually be referred to a specialist for further tests. The specialist you see will often depend on the symptoms and the possible location of the cancer. For example, you may see a gastroenterologist (digestive tract, bowel or stomach), a gynaecologist (female reproductive system), a urologist (urinary tract or kidneys; male reproductive system), a respiratory physician or thoracic surgeon (chest and lung), a neurologist/neurosurgeon (brain and spinal cord) or a haematologist (blood cells). Sometimes your main specialist will be a medical oncologist who treats all types of cancer. If cancer is diagnosed, the specialist will consider the treatment options. Often these options will be discussed with other health professionals at what is known as a multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting. During and after treatment, you will see various health professionals who specialise in different aspects of your care.

GPassists you with treatment decisions and works with your specialists in providing ongoing care
medical oncologisttreats cancer with drug therapies such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy (systemic treatment)
surgeonsurgically removes tumours and performs some biopsies
radiation oncologisttreats cancer by prescribing and overseeing a course of radiation therapy
radiologistanalyses x-rays and scans; an interventional radiologist also does some biopsies and treatments
pathologistexamines cells and tissue samples to determine the type and extent of the cancer
tumour-specific specialistsspecialise in particular areas of the body
nurseadministers drugs and provides care, information and support throughout treatment
cancer care coordinatorcoordinates care and supports you and your family throughout treatment; may also be a clinical nurse consultant or clinical nurse specialist
palliative care teamworks closely with the GP and cancer team to help control symptoms and maintain quality of life
dietitianrecommends an eating plan to follow while you are in treatment and recovery
physiotherapist, occupational therapistassist with physical and practical problems, including restoring movement and mobility
social workerlinks you to support services and helps you with emotional, practical and financial issues
psychiatrist, psychologisthelp you manage your emotional response to diagnosis and treatment

This information is reviewed by

This information was last updated June 2020 by the following expert content reviewers: Prof Linda Mileshkin, Medical Oncologist, Clinical Researcher, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Christine Bradfield, Consumer; Cindy Bryant, Consumer; Dr Maria Cigolini, Head, Department of Palliative Medicine, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, and Clinical Lecturer, The University of Sydney, NSW; Mary Duffy, Advanced Practice Nurse and Nurse Coordinator, Lung Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Karen Hall, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Dr Siobhan O’Neill, Medical Oncologist, Nelune Comprehensive Cancer Centre, NSW; Prof Penelope Schofield, Department of Psychological Sciences and the Iverson Health Innovation Research Institute, Swinburne University of Technology, and Head, Behavioural Science in Cancer, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Frank Stoss, Consumer.