Signs and Symptoms of colon cancer
Most colon cancer is detected through routine screening, though you need a doctor to make an official diagnosis. The signs and symptoms of colon cancer listed below and on the next page may indicate colon cancer – though they often don’t – so it’s important to see your doctor right away if you have any of them. Your doctor can then decide if you need to have any tests. In most cases, there are no signs and symptoms of colon cancer especially in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms do occur, they may include:
- Blood in the stools: The blood may be bright red if the tumour is near the end of the colon or anus, but usually it is hidden inside the stools
- Loss of weight without trying and/or loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting: A large tumour may block the colon and prevent the digestive contents from moving forward causing a backup of food which can lead to nausea and vomiting
- Fatigue due to anemia: Tumours tend to bleed, which means you lose iron. This can lead to iron-deficiency anemia and accompanying feelings of extreme fatigue. A blood test can determine whether you have anemia.
- Diarrhea for more than a couple of weeks
- Narrow stools: This may signal an obstacle that is squeezing the waste
- Sense of fullness in the rectal area: A tumour toward the end of the colon or in the rectum may produce a sensation of “having to go.” You may also have a feeling that your bowels aren’t emptying completely
- Gas and bloating: This may indicate that a tumour is obstructing the passage of stool which traps air and leads to gas and a bloated feeling.
- Altered bowel habits, such as: o Going to the bathroom more or less often than usual o Constipation: This may happen if the tumour is blocking part of the bowel
- Abdominal pain or discomfort (e.g., cramps)
Risk factors for colon cancer
A risk factor is something that makes you more likely than average to develop a condition. Ask yourself the following:
- Are you 50 years of age or older?
- Do you have a family history of colon cancer?
- Do you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis?
- Have you had a prior diagnosis of polyps or early-stage colon cancer?
- Do you have a diagnosis or family history of hereditary syndromes linked to colon cancer?
- Do you eat a diet high in calories, fat and processed meats, and low in fibre, vegetable and fruits? Research suggests such a diet may raise the odds of developing colon cancer.
- Are you inactive? This can increase your chances of getting colon cancer because inactivity causes waste (stools) to stay in your colon longer.
- Are you obese?
- Do you smoke?
- Do you drink a lot of alcohol?
If you answered yes to some of these questions, you may have a higher-than-average risk of developing colon cancer and should speak to your doctor about screening. Keep an especially close eye out for the signs and symptoms of colon cancer.