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Fever as a Symptom of Cancer

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Updated May 30, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Fever Cancer
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When a person experiences an unexplained fever, one of the first thoughts they may have is whether the fever is cancer-elated. We have grown to expect fevers along with other symptoms, like cough and congestion, but what about fevers that occur without anything else being wrong? Can fevers be a symptom of cancer?

Is a Fever a Cancer Symptom?

A fever is an extremely common symptom related to many conditions, most of which are benign. An increase in body temperature is most often a biological response to a viral or bacterial infection. The body simply raises its temperature to help destroy the invading bacteria or virus. In some cases, however, a persistent fever can be related to cancer. Leukemia and lymphoma are two types of cancer that are commonly known to cause fevers.

Fevers related to cancer are persistent, meaning they last longer than three days and can be low- or high-grade. They can be accompanied by other symptoms or occur without other symptoms. How high a fever is does not indicate the severity of a condition, either. Don't brush off a persistent low-grade fever just because it is not high.

What to Expect at the Doctor

If your fever is very persistent, it is important to see your doctor to determine the cause of the fever. Even if over-the-counter fever reducers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen relieve your fever, it is still important to see your doctor.

Unexplained fevers can be caused by a myriad of conditions, and your doctor will likely ask a lot of questions to help make an accurate diagnosis, such as:

  • How long have you had the fever?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • Do you suffer from any diseases or conditions?
  • How often do you have a fever? Do you notice it more at night?
  • Do you have a dental abscess or other dental problems that may have an infection?
  • Have you traveled to any other countries within the last few months?

Your doctor may decide to do a few routine tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC) or chem 7 panel to see what they reveal. He or she may also want to do a urinalysis to rule out a urinary tract infection as the cause.

Remember, an Explained Fever Does Not Always Mean Cancer

Keep in mind that a fever is a very general, vague symptom of cancer. A fever is not a red flag for cancer, but more of an indication to your doctor to run certain medical tests. You may also get a better understanding of what your symptoms, like fevers, may mean by using the About.com Symptom Checker, an interactive health education tool.
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