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5 Symptoms That Can Signal Colon Cancer

By Gregory FitzHarris, M.D.
Colorectal Surgeon
Sentara Cancer Network

A colonoscopy is one procedure many patients may be tempted to skip, usually due to the preparation required. However, this screening can prevent colon cancer.

Early detection is also critical to stop colon cancer before it becomes difficult to treat. If polyps on the inner lining of the colon or rectum are found on time, they can be removed and cancer prevented. Screened populations definitely have a lower incidence of colorectal cancer.

What’s challenging about colon cancer is that many patients who receive a diagnosis report no symptoms at all. Colon cancer is often found on a colonoscopy ordered for other reasons, such as a follow up to an abnormal finding on an X-ray or the results of a routine blood count.

While some patients don’t have warning signs, identifiable symptoms for colorectal cancer include:

• Blood in Stool: The most common symptom patients report is blood in their stool. Unfortunately, a common misconception is that the blood is due to hemorrhoids.

• Change in Bowel Habits: A change in bowel habits is a relatively late sign, but it should not be ignored because some people have this without bleeding. Often this is attributed to a change in diet or just ignored until it’s so bad that care is sought.

• Abdominal Pain: Abdominal pain is a late sign and suggests the tumor is either blocking the flow of bowel contents or growing into the abdominal wall.

• Weakness and Fatigue: Weakness and fatigue can be due to the anemia that can be caused by colon and rectal cancer. Slow loss of blood by the tumor eventually causes fatigue. Unfortunately, this symptom is often chalked up to depression, not getting enough sleep or other factors. A simple blood count (CBC) can figure out if a person is anemic.

• Unexplained Weight Loss: Unintended weight loss due to colorectal cancer is most likely caused by metastatic disease where the tumor has spread to other parts of the body, most commonly the liver or lungs. If the cancer has gotten to this stage, most patients are not curable. The cancer can be treated, but it often cannot be cured.

If you notice any of the above symptoms, you should follow up with your primary care provider. They are your partner in health, and should be aware of any changes your body experiences.

Colonoscopy is the gold standard for screening, so please schedule an appointment if you are 50 years or older (45 for African Americans) or even earlier if you have other colorectal cancer risk factors. For more information, visit http://sentaracancer.com/

Enjoy this colon healthy cooking: