Colon Cancer Symptoms & Signs
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Video: Diagnosing Colon CancerFollowing up on colon cancer symptoms can lead to an early diagnosis and better treatment results. Learn how colon cancer is diagnosed so advanced treatment can begin.
Diagnosing Colon Cancer
Listen to Dr. Leon Yoder explain how doctors diagnose colon cancer, often with a colonoscopy to biopsy an abnormal polyp, followed by an endoscopic ultrasound to stage the tumor.
What Are the Symptoms of Colon Cancer?
Colon polyps may begin as benign tumors and develop into cancer. Once the polyp turns to cancer, the slow growth and spread of the tumor within the colon (large intestine) may produce some noticeable symptoms.
The large intestine is an important part of the digestive system where the body absorbs water and nutrients. The large intestine is also involved in the process of ridding the body of waste. Colon cancer may affect the large intestine's ability to perform some of these functions, causing changes in bowel habits or unexplained weight loss.
However, in the early stages of the disease, there are usually no obvious symptoms of colon cancer. Early detection is possible by following the guidelines for regular screening.
If colon cancer symptoms are present, they will vary depending on the tumor's size and location in the large intestine. The symptoms are often characterized as localized changes that affect bowel habits or overall systematic changes that affect your whole body, such as fatigue and weight loss.
Some changes in bowels habits may be considered colon cancer signs. They include:
- Change in frequency of bowel movements
- Change in consistency of stool (loose or watery stools)
- Blood in stools (either as bright red spots or dark "tarry" stools)
- Rectal bleeding
- Abdominal pain (bloating, gas or cramps)
- Feeling you cannot completely empty your bowels
NOTE: These symptoms may be attributed to a number of conditions other than cancer, such as an infection or other illness. It is important to consult with a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis.
Changes in the bowels or digestion may have secondary effects on the body. Overall changes in well-being, such as fatigue, unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite may also be colon cancer signs. Blood in your stool or significant changes in bowel habits does not mean you have cancer. However, it is an important sign that you should talk with your doctor. These may be signs of pre-cancerous polyps, which, if detected, can be treated and monitored.
Screening for Colon Cancer
Over 90 percent of all colon cancers occur in people over age 50—and there often no symptoms in the early stages. The American Cancer Society considers both men and women age 50 and older to be at an average risk for developing colon cancer. If you do not have any other risk factors, colon cancer screenings generally begin at age 50.
Screening enables doctors to detect and treat pre-cancerous polyps before they develop into cancer. Benign polyps can be removed during the screening process. Examinations may include a colonoscopy or a sigmoidoscopy. If you are experiencing symptoms of colon cancer, your doctor may recommend additional tests to help understand what may be causing your symptoms.
Colon cancer symptoms may be signs of other conditions or related digestive disorders. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, or if you believe you may be at risk because of a history of colon inflammation or family history, you should talk with your doctor about your screening options.
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