Perhaps the reason why colon cancer, a largely preventative disease according to most gastroenterologists, is a leading cause of death among cancer patients is that its symptoms can be difficult to spot. Taking the time to understand the look and feel of colon cancer symptoms will increase your chances of beating the disease before it spreads.
Overview of the Colon
The first step in understanding possible colon cancer symptoms is to learn the basic functions of your digestive system. The colon, sometimes called the large intestine, is a major section of your gastrointestinal tract. Approximately 6 feet in length, it is responsible for absorption of water, minerals and nutrients as food passes through your body. The colon also helps to get rid of waste by producing stool that can eventually be passed through the lowest parts of the gastrointestinal tract: the anal canal and rectum.
Common Colon Cancer Symptoms
During the earliest stages of the disease, it is quite common, in fact, to experience no symptoms at all. Fortunately, recommended colorectal screening starting at age 50 with procedures such as colonoscopy has been proven to be effective in detecting and removing cancer growth and preventing a large proportion of fatalities.
Regardless, many cases of colon cancer produce a variety of symptoms. Depending on whether a specific cancer is local or systemic, symptoms may vary even further. In reviewing the symptoms listed below, keep in mind that local colon cancer creates symptoms that affect your regular bowel movements because it attacks the colon itself. Systemic colon cancer, on the other hand, may affect the entire body.
You May Have Local Colon Cancer If:
- You experience bowel movements more or less frequently than normal,
- You experience prolonged constipation, diarrhea or a combination of the two,
- You notice obvious or occult blood in your stool,
- You notice that your stool is thinner than usual,
- You feel like your colon is still full, even after a bowel movement, and/or
- You experience abdominal pain, cramps, gas or bloating for no apparent reason.
Symptoms of Systemic Colon Cancer:
- You notice a substantial drop in body weight without dieting or other intentional methods of weight loss,
- You notice a loss of natural appetite,
- You feel fatigued all of the time without apparent cause,
- You frequently experience nausea or vomiting, and/or
- You are suddenly diagnosed with a medical condition such as anemia or jaundice.
How Do I Treat My Symptoms?
It is good practice to see a doctor if any of these colon cancer symptoms persist. While recognition of these problems may not necessarily lead to a diagnosis, your doctor will be able to review your medical history and perform a variety of tests to assess your health. Some of these tests require drawing of blood or sampling of stool. If need be, your doctor may refer you to a colon specialist who can screen you for colon cancer with a colonoscopy.
Most patients will hesitate to see a doctor about possible colon cancer symptoms because they are scared of getting screened with colonoscopy. Don’t let yourself be swayed by common misconceptions.
While many wrongly believe that the colonoscopy procedure causes a lot of pain, shame and embarrassment, the benefit of removing cancerous tumors before they metastasize is well worth the perceived risk for many patients. In addition, advances in gastroenterology have allowed colon cancer screening to be as quick and painless as ever. In fact, most patients said that they did not even remember the screening procedure because they were sedated throughout the entire process.