You’ve heard that colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death and the third most common cause of cancer. It is most common in older people, but cases among younger adults are becoming more common. And even if you’ve had the screening recommended by your doctor, you still wonder, “What if I get colon cancer? How will I know?”
Colon cancer arises as a polyp. These small, non-cancerous groups of cells grow on the inside of the colon. But over time, polyps can transform into colon cancer. And as they grow, they can cause the symptoms that people with colon cancer commonly experience. While these symptoms most often occur in people without colon cancer, if you experience any of these, it’s worth a chat with your doctor:
- Changes in bowel habits. A tumor blocking the colon can make it difficult for stool to pass, causing constipation. A large tumor can prevent the effective processing of waste and lead to diarrhea. Or the tumor can narrow the passageway enough that bowel movements may be unusually shaped. Any persistent change in bowel habits deserves a visit to the doctor.
- Blood in the stool. Even though blood in the stool can result from something relatively minor, such as hemorrhoids, it is still abnormal and should be evaluated by a physician.
- Abdominal discomfort. If pain, gas, or bloating persists, it may be the sign of something more serious than just spoiled food or stomach flu. Let your doctor rule out any serious cause and help you feel more comfortable, too.
- Unexplained weight loss. If you’ve lost weight without changing your eating or exercise habits, colon cancer could be responsible.
- Unusual fatigue. Colon cancer often arises from polyps in the colon that can bleed in small consistent amounts, resulting in anemia. Anemia can make the most energetic person feel worn out. If you find that you don’t have your usual level of energy, it’s time to get a check-up.
It is helpful to be aware of these symptoms of colon cancer so that you can get medical care as soon as possible should they arise. However, prevention is always the best medicine. If you haven’t already done so, have a conversation with your doctor about family history and other risk factors you have for colon cancer. With this information, they will help you develop a plan for screening that has the greatest likelihood of preventing colon cancer altogether.