Colorectal cancer, also called colon cancer, is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the US. Colon cancer affects both man and women, and all racial and ethnic groups. More than 90% of cases occur in people over age 50. Unfortunately, at the onset, colon cancer has few, if any, symptoms. Read on to find out how to recognize symptoms if they do occur, as well as steps you can take to catch colon cancer while it is still in the early stages.
Identifying Colon Cancer Symptoms
1Pay attention to blood in your stool. If you have ongoing rectal bleeding that doesn’t seem to be a result of hemorrhoids or a tear, it’s a good idea to go to the doctor and get checked out. Blood in the stool is a common symptom of colon cancer.
2Notice changes in your bowel movements. If you are experiencing persistent diarrhea and constipation, that’s something to look into. People with colon cancer may also have long, pencil-shaped stools. The feeling of not being able to completely empty your bowels has also been reported.
Pay attention to patterns you notice with your bowel movements. If things seem to feel different – you experience rectal cramping, you don’t have bowel movements with the same regularity, and your stools look different – make an appointment with your doctor.
These symptoms do not necessarily indicate that you have colon cancer. Similar symptoms are experienced by people with irritable bowel syndrome and a host of other medical ailments.
3Be aware of abdominal pain and bloating. These symptoms go along with the uncomfortable changes you might experience in your bowel movements. If you have pain in your abdominal region as well as bloating that doesn’t seem to have another cause, see your doctor.
Pelvic pain is also experienced by people experiencing the later stages of colon cancer.
Again, these symptoms are shared by many other illnesses, so having them doesn’t necessarily indicate you have colon cancer. Still, it’s a good idea to get them checked out.
4Notice changes in your appetite. People with colon cancer may experience a loss of appetite, along with unexplained weight loss. If you’re losing the desire to eat full meals and don’t enjoy foods you used to eat, colon cancer may be the culprit. Pay attention to changes in your weight, especially if it seems to slide steadily down without effort on your part.
5Determine whether you are uncharacteristically fatigued. This is a common symptoms of many types of cancer, colon cancer included. If you feel deeply tired and weak in conjunction with the other colon cancer symptoms, see your doctor right away.
EditPart 2 of 2: Catching Colon Cancer Early
1Know if you are at risk for colon cancer. Age is the leading factor when it comes to risk, as the majority of people who get colon cancer are over the age of fifty. However, there are several other factors that can play a part. They include:
Being African American. African Americans are at greater risk than other races.
Having a personal history of colon cancer or polyps.
Having an inherited syndrome that can lead to colon cancer, such as familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).
Leading a sedentary lifestyle. Getting more exercise can help reduce your risk.
Eating a low-fiber, high fat diet. Changing your diet to include more fruits and vegetables and less fat and meat can help reduce your risk.
Having diabetes or obesity can increase your risk.
Smoking and drinking alcohol can increase your risk.
2Get regular screenings. More than 95% of colorectal cancers come from adenocarcinoma polyps. These cancers start in cells that form mucus glands, which lubricate the colon and rectum. Carcinoid tumors, gastrointestinal stromal tumors and lymphomas also cause 5% of colon cancers. The best way to prevent colon cancer is to undergo regular screening tests after the age of 50 to determine whether cancerous or precancerous growths are present. The doctor will perform one or more of the following procedures to determine whether you have colon cancer:
A fecal occult blood test (FOBT), to check for hidden blood in the stools.
A sigmoidoscopy, in which a lighted instrument called a sgmoidoscope is used to check for polyps and growths in the rectum and lower colon.
A colonoscopy, in which a colonoscope is used to examine the entire colon for cancerous or precancerous growths, which are removed and biopsied if found.
A virtual colonoscopy or double contrast barium enema (DCBE), which are different types of x-rays that show polyps and growths on the colon.