Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second most deadly but preventable cancer. That is why screening for this condition is recommended by the age of 45, and even earlier if you are at increased risk. Many patients diagnosed with colon cancer during testing have never experienced symptoms at all, or you can say that advanced screening methods enable early detection before CRC begins to cause problems. With that said, a few red-flag signs may signal CRC but are not diagnostic of this disease and may be due to other less harmful causes.
1. Changes in bowel habits
This includes diarrhea, constipation, or change in the consistency, size, or shape of your stool. Notify your health care provider if you have been passing hard, dry, pellet, or watery stools for more than a few days.
Also, narrow or pencil-thin stools — that last longer than a few days — may portend obstruction of the colon due to cancer.
Besides, your bowel habits can also change as a result of factors that aren’t so serious, so it's always best to consult your doctor who can come up with a clear diagnosis underlying the altered bowel habits.
2. Blood in the stool
This is by far the most alarming of all the signs. Bright red blood in your toilet bowl or maroon blood on the toilet paper after having a bowel movement can be a sign of CRC. Typically, right-sided colon cancer causes maroon-colored bleeding, whereas bright red stools are likely to be due to left-sided masses.
Colon cancer bleeds because of the rupture of new blood vessels that form in response to chemicals released from the tumor.
3. Not passing any stool
The inability to pass any stool at all calls for an emergency due to bowel obstruction from the tumor.
4. A feeling of incomplete bowel emptying
A feeling that you still have stool in your rectum or a sensation of rectal pressure after a bowel movement may be due to a mass in your rectum.
5. Unexplained weight loss
Sudden, dramatic, unintentional weight loss (weight loss that occurs without trying) is a common symptom of several types of cancer, including colon cancer.
Significant unexplained weight loss is either:
When you’ve lost more than 5% of your usual body weight in the last 6–12 months, or
When your usual clothes don't seem to fit anymore, and when a relative or friend also points out that you've been losing weight (in case you haven't been tracking your weight).
6. Abdominal cramps
Abdominal pain (or cramps) that comes and goes is a common but vague symptom of colon cancer. However, the pain can also suddenly increase in intensity, suggesting bowel perforation, or rupture of the bowel, which is an emergency.
7. Pallor, fatigue, pounding heartbeat
Pale skin, lethargy, and a fast heart rate likely indicate a shortage of your red blood cells, called anemia, secondary to bleeding. The presence of anemia may hint at CRC when present with other warning signs and symptoms. Nonetheless, we'll screen for colon cancer if you're over the age of 45 and only have anemia. Most commonly, patients with right-sided colon masses present with anemia.
If you experience any of the above signs and symptoms, contact my office at 310-360-6807 or click the button below to schedule an appointment.