Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is a very serious condition — it is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US for men and women combined. Fortunately, it is also one of the easiest cancers to treat when detected early. That’s why regular colon cancer screenings are recommended for men and women starting at age 50, or earlier depending on your age, family history, and other risk factors.
At Northeastern Gastroenterology Associates, our team of gastroenterology specialists and colonoscopy doctors continuously advocate on the importance of regular colon cancer screenings. In addition to making sure you get screened, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the early warning signs of colon or rectal cancer, which we’ll cover in this blog. The more you understand what to look for, the increased chance you have of catching colorectal cancer early when the disease is most treatable. If you have any signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer, do not ignore them. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
Changes in Bowel Habits
Everyone is different, as are their bowel habits. Many factors contribute to a change in an individual’s bowel habits, from food consumption to temporary infections or other medical issues. While there is no standard normal for bowel habits, experiencing significant bowel habit changes, such as constipation, diarrhea, or narrow, ribbon-like stools should raise some concern. It is completely normal to experience these bowel habit changes if they are temporary; however, if they are persistent or recurring, you may want to talk to your primary care physician about the symptoms you are experiencing.
Keep in mind, some people experience long-lasting changes in bowel habits because of gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome. However, it is still worth consulting a doctor to rule out cancer when bowel habits change and don't go back to normal.
Blood In Stool
If you ever notice blood in your stool, talk to a doctor right away. While it certainly can be caused by other factors, blood in stool is one of the cardinal signs of colorectal cancer. This is a sign of rectal bleeding. Sometimes, the blood might be seen in the stool, or the blood might simply make the stool appear darker. Bleeding can also be so mild that you don't see it at all.
Blood in your stool may have many different causes, including hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, or other conditions. Nevertheless, anytime you notice bright or dark red blood on toilet paper or in your stool you should inform your doctor, especially if it happens multiple times.
Unexplained Weight Loss
Sudden, unexplained weight loss is another common early sign of colon or rectal cancer. In fact, unexplained weight loss can be a symptom of several different types of cancer but it can also be triggered by other things as well such as an overactive thyroid, depression, or an infection.
Remember, if you aren’t trying to lose weight but the scale is showing that the pounds are significantly dropping, there might be an underlying health issue.
Persistent or Recurrent Abdominal Pain
Abdominal pain is discomforting and is typically associated with gas pains, bloating, a feeling of fullness, or abdominal cramps. Experiencing abdominal pain persistently, though, could be an indication that you need to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Any blockage in the colon, including cancer, can deter your ability to pass gas. The colon is located in the abdomen, therefore if colon cancer is the cause of your bloating or pain, it is not uncommon to feel discomfort in that area
When it comes to colorectal cancer and abdominal pain, some people may not experience pain until the disease has progressed to its later stages, while others experience it early on.
It is always better to be safe than sorry, so if you are experiencing abdominal pain that isn't explained by some other condition, it is time to talk to your doctor.
Colorectal cancer often causes bleeding, sometimes without you knowing about it. Losing too much blood consistently could result in anemia — a condition caused by too few red blood cells to carry oxygen efficiently throughout your body. Anemia may be detected on a routine blood test. It is often also detected by individuals when they notice they have the associated symptoms, such as extreme fatigue and weakness, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, or cold hands and feet.
This condition has many possible causes. It could even be caused by something as simple as a lack of iron in your diet. However, because you could have internal bleeding and not technically be aware of it, the cause of anemia should always be investigated by a medical professional to rule out serious illnesses or conditions such as colorectal cancer.
It’s not very uncommon for individuals diagnosed in the early stages of colorectal cancer (stage I or II) to not experience any colorectal cancer symptoms. Symptoms of early-stage colorectal cancer are not always obvious or visible. In many cases, symptoms will only begin to appear when the cancer is in the late-stages and has spread. That’s why it’s important to get screened. Screening can help detect colon cancer when signs and symptoms are not present.
Remember, regular screening procedures can find polyps and remove them before they can become cancerous and begin to spread. If caught early, colorectal cancer is highly treatable. Sometimes individuals will undergo screening and have a polyp removed, or cancer detected, yet had no idea anything was wrong.
All of these symptoms can vary based on the person. However, if you experience any of them it is important that you make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you are able to rule out serious conditions like colorectal cancer.
Contact Our Honesdale Gastroenterology Associates to Schedule a Screening
If you have noticed any of the above signs and symptoms or have been recommended by your doctor to get screened for colon cancer, Northeastern Gastroenterology Associates can help. Offering colonoscopies, sigmoidoscopies, and other colorectal cancer screening solutions, our gastroenterology specialists can check for any early signs of the disease to treat it early on.
Interested in learning more about colorectal cancer screenings? Contact us today.