Colon and rectal cancer, together known as colorectal cancers, are the third most common type of cancer in men and women, resulting in nearly 50,000 deaths per year. Colon cancer is more common than people might think, which can cause the warning signs to be overlooked. The signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer depend on the location of the cancer, how advanced it is and how it affects the organs and tissue. One sign or symptom alone may not be enough to determine the cause, but if several symptoms are present, a doctor can get a better idea of the potential cause.
At times, symptoms of colorectal cancer may not show up until the cancer has advanced. Because symptoms can go unnoticed during the early stages of the disease, guidelines recommend colon cancer screenings begin at age 50. Statistics show that regular screenings could prevent over 60 percent of deaths from colon cancer.
1. Unexplained Weight Loss
Sudden weight loss is often a symptom of several types of cancer, including colon cancer. Unintentional weight loss is the loss of 10 pounds or more in six months or less without knowing the reason. Colorectal cancer can lead to unexplained weight loss in a variety of ways. Cancer cells use up a lot of the body’s energy supply, and the immune system also uses energy as it works hard to fight the disease. Cancer cells can release substances into the body that change the way food is converted to energy, which can cause weight loss.
Additionally, if a tumor in the colon gets large enough, it could block the colon. This blockage can affect a person’s bowel habits, which can then lead to unexplained weight loss.
2. Fatigue and Weakness
It can be easy to confuse fatigue with simply being tired. Between work and personal obligations, everyone can feel run down at times. If the exhaustion does not go away with rest, it could be fatigue. In addition to colorectal cancer, fatigue and weakness could also be symptoms of diabetes, anemia and heart disease.
Similar to unexplained weight loss, cancer cells can cause fatigue as they use up the body’s energy. Sometimes colon cancer can cause fatigue due to internal blood loss from the disease.
Fatigue is typically a symptom of an underlying condition. Fatigue is a constant state of weakness and exhaustion with no apparent cause. If you feel what could be fatigue, it’s important to visit your doctor to determine the cause.
3. Abdominal Cramps
Many people have abdominal pain at some point in their lives, and like many symptoms, it can seem minor. It is a common symptom of noncancerous conditions, such as hemorrhoids and irritable bowel syndrome. However, abdominal pain that began recently and is severe and long-lasting can be a sign of cancer.
4. Blood in Stool
A warning sign for colon or rectal cancer is blood in the stool. Sometimes you may notice bright red spots, and other times it may not be visible to the naked eye. The severity of symptoms depends on the advancement and location of the disease.
Stool could also appear very dark or black, signifying the presence of dried blood. If you see any sign of blood in your stool, you should consult your doctor. A fecal occult test can detect whether there is blood in the stool, and additional examinations can help your doctor determine the source of the blood and the proper course of treatment.
Rectal bleeding usually comes from bleeding in the lower colon or rectum and is a common symptom of colorectal cancer. Bright red blood on the toilet paper after a bowel movement or red or pink water in the toilet bowl can be signs of rectal bleeding. People often attribute rectal bleeding to hemorrhoids, which can prevent an early cancer diagnosis.
Anyone experiencing bleeding from the rectum should see a doctor immediately. If you are over 40, a physician will likely recommend tests such as a colonoscopy to rule out cancer.
5. Change in Bowel Habits
A colon polyp, a small clump of cells on the lining of the colon, can develop into cancer over time. Once the polyp turns into cancer, the slow growth of the tumor often affects bowel habits, which can produce symptoms. If you’ve noticed your stool becoming thinner or a change in the frequency of bowel movements, it could be a sign of colorectal cancer.
Change in Stool Consistency
Colon cancer can hinder the large intestine’s ability to perform its usual tasks, like ridding the body of waste and absorbing water and nutrients. Drastic changes in the consistency of stool can be an early sign that something isn’t quite right. Loose, watery stools, diarrhea or constipation unrelated to another condition can be a symptom of the disease.
Be Proactive About Your Health
Like all cancers, treatment is the most successful when colorectal cancer is caught in its early stage. Fortunately, colon cancer rates have dropped over the last ten years due to the rise in colonoscopies and colon cancer screenings. In addition to regular screenings, recognizing the common signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer can save your life.
Many of these symptoms can be overlooked, but they may be a sign of a dangerous condition. Detecting cancer in its early stages could save your life, so it’s important to be prepared to recognize signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer. If you’re experiencing symptoms or want to learn more about your personal risk for colorectal cancer, find a doctor in your area today.