Colorectal cancer is one of the most pronounced and dangerous forms of the disease. It is the third most common cancer (excluding skin cancers) diagnosed in both men and women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society, and is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among American adults according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sixty percent of colorectal cancer cases can be prevented with screening, however. If you are in your mid-40s and haven’t had a colon screening yet, perhaps it is time. The American Cancer Society has now updated their guidelines for colon and rectal cancer screening to include adults at average risk starting at age 45 instead of 50, as previously recommended—reflecting a rise in colorectal cancer among younger adults.
Here, we will focus on colon cancer (cancer of the large intestine, the final part of the digestive tract) and look at the early symptoms of it. One of the reasons colon cancer is so deadly is that it’s so hard to detect, as early signs of it are easy to confuse with other, far less dangerous health issues, like stomach flu. Which is why it is important for both adult women and men to get themselves tested.
We have compiled nine symptoms and signs of colon cancer that you should watch out for:
1. Bloody Stool
Depending on severity, colon cancer tumors may result in bloody stool that may appear dark, black, or tar-colored. If you have any blood in your stool regardless of the color or amount, contact your doctor as soon as possible for testing. Your doctor will be able to administer a colonoscopy and determine the source of the bleeding.
2. Abdominal Discomfort
If there is a tumor or polyp developing in your colon, it may irritate the lining of the abdomen and cause abdominal pain and cramps. So, if you have been experiencing any unusual pain that is ongoing, consult with your doctor for testing.
3. Vomiting or Nausea
If you experience constant vomiting or nausea accompanied by constipation or pain, it’s possible that colon cancer may be the cause, and you should consult with your doctor immediately. As the tumor grows in size, it causes bowel obstruction of solids and liquids trying to pass through. The resulting pain and constipation may cause both nausea and/or vomiting.
4. Unexplained Changes in Bowel Movements
Generally, bowel movements should occur as easily and naturally as urinating, eating, and drinking. But as cancer develops in the colon, it can cause bowel movements to become irregular, with such symptoms as constant diarrhea or constipation occurring as a result. If you’re experiencing unexplained changes in your bowel movements that seem to last longer than usual or feel out of the ordinary, you should consult with your doctor for testing.
5. Gas and Bloating
Although it is completely normal to pass gas up to 23 times per day, excessive gas can be a sign of colon cancer. Gas and bloating are late symptoms caused by tumors in the colon, which create an obstacle for waste. As these tumors grow, waste begins to build up in the colon, resulting in painful gas, bloating, and discomfort.
6. Unexplained Anemia
Anemia is a condition where the blood doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells. It may be caused by blood loss in the stool as a result of colon cancer. As iron is lost with the stool, it lowers the total stores of iron in the body, resulting in a lower production of new red blood cells and, consequently, anemia. While it is common for women to have iron deficiencies caused by menstruation, it is uncommon in men, and they should have it analyzed by a doctor. Common symptoms of anemia are fatigue, pale-yellowish skin, irregular heartbeat, and shortness of breath.
7. Chronic Fatigue
Unlike normal tiredness from lack of sleep, fatigue from cancer is not usually alleviated by rest or caffeinated drinks such as coffee, and can last anywhere from a few days to several months. Fatigue from colon cancer may be caused by tumor cells competing with the body for nutrients, nutritional deficiencies caused by diarrhea and/or vomiting, anemia, or simply the stress of experiencing pain from other symptoms.
8. Sudden Weight Loss
Sudden and unintentional weight loss means the loss of 5 percent or more bodyweight over a 6- to 12-month period. There are several ways that colon cancer can lead to weight loss: cancer cells may absorb a large volume of nutrients and energy meant to supply the body; meanwhile, the immune system is working hard to fight the cancer, using up even more energy and nutrients—both of which may lead to weight loss.
Also, cancer cells tend to release substances in the body that can change the way food is converted into energy, making the process less efficient, leading to weight loss. Should you find that you have lost a lot of weight without any effort, talk to your doctor immediately to determine the cause. Even if it isn’t colon cancer, it may be caused by several other serious conditions.
9. Shortness of Breath
Bleeding in the colon resulting in anemia may cause symptoms such as shortness of breath when blood is unable to supply enough oxygen through normal respiration.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.