Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is often thought of an older man’s disease, but women and men of all ages can develop it. Symptoms can be tricky to catch, as they’re often associated with other health conditions.
Colorectal cancer is curable if caught early. But many people have no symptoms, which is why screening is so important. Early onset cases are on the rise. And many cases can be cured with surgery alone.
According to the American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons, it is estimated that more than 78,000 men and 69,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year. People of color have a higher chance of being diagnosed at an advanced stage, which can require screening at a younger age.
What symptoms should you look for?
- Changes in bowel habits: Diarrhea and/or constipation, whether occasional or constant, may be a sign of colorectal cancer. Monitoring changes in the consistency of your stool is also important. If your stool is narrower than usual, talk to your doctor.
- Abdominal discomfort: Be on the lookout for symptoms such as persistent cramps, gas, pain, feeling unusually full or bloated or feeling like your bowels aren’t totally empty after you go to the bathroom.
- Rectal bleeding: Call your doctor if there is blood in your stool. This can range from bright red, brick red to black and tarry.
- Weakness or fatigue: Anemia or a low red blood cell count can also be indicators.
- Unexplained weight loss: Unintentional weight loss, with or without nausea or vomiting.
What should you do if you’re experiencing symptoms?
Talk to your doctor about getting screened for colorectal cancer. Based on your family history, symptoms and risk factors, your doctor may want to start screening you early or screen more frequently.
Colonoscopies are still the gold standard for detecting colorectal cancer. A scope is used to look inside the colon for tumors or polyps. Polyps are an overgrowth of cells on the inner lining of the colon wall. They can develop into cancer, and your doctor may remove them during the colonoscopy. If left untreated, cancer cells can grow through the colon wall and can spread to other organs, which is why early detection is crucial.
Colonoscopies aren’t the only screening choice you have. There are other options for average- to low-risk people, including tests that can detect hidden blood in stool. Other options include a flexible sigmoidoscopy, which is a scope inserted into the rectum and lower portion of the colon, a double contrast barium enema (barium x-ray), or a digital rectal exam. Colon cancer screening is covered by most health plans, including Medicare.
Screening guidelines recommend starting at age 45, though people with a family history of colorectal cancer should start getting screened 10 years before the youngest case in their immediate family. For example, if your father got diagnosed at 47, you should start getting screened at 37.
Early detection is key in the fight against cancer. Learn more and schedule your screenings at https://digital.ochsner.org/cancer-screenings/