Colon Cancer Symptoms

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second most common cause of cancer death in the United States. Men and women are affected equally. Typically, the risk for colorectal cancer begins at about age 50. However, cancer can occur at younger ages, particularly if a family history is present. Other risk factors such as obesity, cigarette smoking, a lack of dietary fiber, increased red meat intake, a low vitamin D level, or decreased calcium intake can influence the development of cancer.

The symptoms of include bleeding, that is passage of red blood of any color with or without stool. A change in bowel habits, such as narrower stool, decreased frequency or on occasion diarrhea, may occur but can be a later symptom. Abdominal pain, typically lower can be present. Other symptoms include weight loss, loss of appetite, lethargy, or fatigue.

Objective findings include anemia, weight loss, occult blood in stool (blood found in a stool test for hidden blood) or abnormal imaging study revealing colon wall thickening.

Many people with early cancer may not have any symptoms. Do not wait for symptoms. A screening test should be performed at age 50 or sooner if a family history is present, African American origin (age 45 years), or if a high risk condition is present, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or Lynch syndrome (a genetic family cancer syndrome condition).

Screening tests include tests for cancer detection, as a stool tests to look for hidden blood (such as the FIT test). A tests that are for cancer prevention include a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy allows for direct visualization of the colon and rectum with removal of precancerous polyps at the time. This test is considered the gold standard (the best test), but is an invasive test, that requires some sedation and small risks. A sigmoidoscopy is similar but looks only at the left colon. A virtual colonoscopy is a CAT scan. The images ideally are generated in three dimensions. The results are somewhat variable but are considered fairly accurate. The test is not as invasive but if a polyp is found a colonoscopy is recommended for polyp removal.

The good news is that colorectal cancer is nearly preventable with proper screening. Removal of precancerous polyps is the basis for screening. Even if a cancer is detected, on a screening exam it can usually be treated successfully. The death rate from CRC has reduced over the past several years. Recently in a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) it was estimated that annually from 2003 to 2007; 66,000 fewer people were diagnosed with colon cancer due to screening. If cancer is developed, chemotherapy and radiation have also improved results.

This is great news that we now know for certain that colon screening can save your life. There is still a lot more that can be done. It is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that one third of the people who should be getting screened are not. It is estimated that 30,000 lives a year could be saved if everyone gets the screening that is recommended for them.

The bottom line is to get screened before symptoms develop. However, if symptoms mentioned develop promptly visit your health care provider. A colonoscopy or other test can detect lesions that can be treated at that time, or referred to surgery or other treatment to save lives

The information provided through this article is NOT a substitute for professional care and should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. You should consult your health care provider if you have or suspect you may have a health problem.

About Dr. Michael Lustberg

Leading Board Certified Gastroenterologist and Founder of GI for Life, the premier nutritional company. GI for Life is committed to developing dietary supplements and products based on the most current evidence for supporting digestive, intestinal and colon health.