Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is one of the most common types of cancer in the United States. It’s important to be attuned to symptoms that could indicate colon cancer. However, the condition is notorious for being asymptomatic.
In some cases, patients with colorectal cancer start to experience symptoms. Possible symptoms include:
• A change in bowel habits, such as persistent diarrhea or constipation
• Abdominal pain, possibly accompanied by bloating and cramps
• Feeling unable to void the bowel
• Blood in the stool, rectal bleeding, or black, tarry stools
• Unexplained weight loss
• Persistent, unexplained weakness or fatigue
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to contact your physician. Your doctor will perform diagnostic testing to determine the exact cause. All of the above symptoms can also indicate less serious conditions, like hemorrhoids, infection, or inflammatory bowel disease.
Colon Cancer is Often Symptomless
Although some patients do experience symptoms, the majority of patients with early-stage colon cancer don’t experience any symptoms at all. That’s why screening is so important for the early detection and prevention of colon cancer.
Who Needs Screening?
People who are at an elevated risk for colon cancer should be screened regularly so that it can be caught even if it isn’t yet causing symptoms. Early screening can also detect polyps that have the potential to become cancerous later on.
Three main tests are used to screen for cancer. Fecal occult blood test looks for signs of cancer in three consecutive stool samples, which you can collect at home. This test should be performed annually starting at age 50.
Sigmoidoscopy allows doctors to view the inside of your rectum and the nearest part of your colon, the sigmoid colon. It should be performed every 5 years starting at age 50. A colonoscopy is the strongest tool for early detection of cancer, and lets the doctor look at the inside of the entire colon. It should be performed every 10 years starting at age 50. Any of these tests may also be used to help diagnose the cause of your gastrointestinal symptoms.
Patients at an elevated risk of colon cancer should be screened more frequently. If you have inflammatory bowel disease, a family history of colon cancer, or a personal history of polyps, your doctor may recommend that you start getting screened earlier, and get screened more frequently.