Medical professionals often refer to colorectal cancer, which includes colon cancer that affects the large intestine and rectal cancer that affects the lower most part of the large intestine.
According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 20 people are at a risk of developing colorectal cancer during their lifetime.
The exact cause of colorectal or bowel cancer is not known. However, it is believed to develop when healthy cells become abnormal and start growing in number and accumulate in the lining of the colon, forming polyps. Left untreated, polyps may become cancerous.
Several factors increase your risk of developing colon and rectal cancer, including aging (above 50 years), some types of bowel diseases, family history, obesity, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, a sedentary lifestyle, Type 2 diabetes and regular intake of processed foods or red meats.
African-Americans are at a greater risk of colon cancer than people of other races.
As it can be difficult to treat colon cancer after it spreads to nearby areas, it is important to know what the early symptoms are. This can help you seek early treatment and give you a better chance in recovery.
Here are the top 10 warning signs of colon cancer you shouldn’t ignore.
Constipation is an important sign of cancer in the colon. A 2011 study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention highlights the link between constipation and colorectal cancer risk.
An earlier 2004 study published in the European Journal of Cancer supported the hypothesis that constipation or laxative use increases the risk of colon cancer.
A tumor present at the far end of the colon can make it very difficult to eliminate waste products, thereby causing constipation.
If you persistently have fewer bowel movements per week, without any prior problem of constipation, consult your doctor to find out the exact cause.
If you suffer from diarrhea for more than a couple of weeks, it may be an early symptom of colon cancer.
When a tumor partially obstructs the bowel, it can cause alternating constipation and diarrhea due to leakage of liquid stool.
You may also experience frequent gas, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Plus, a tumor may irritate or narrow the lining of the intestine.
It is important to consult your doctor when you have diarrhea that lasts more than a few days, as it can lead to dehydration, drain your body of nutrients and signal other serious problems, such as cancer.
3. Blood in Stools
Most often, blood in the stool is due to piles (hemorrhoids), where the veins in the back passage become fragile and cause a little bleeding during a bowel movement. This type of bleeding is generally red.
However, if you notice dark red or black blood in your stool, it can be a sign of cancer, such as bowel, rectal or colon cancer. It can also be due to a stomach ulcer.
Whether bleeding is due to piles, a stomach ulcer or cancer, it’s important to get it checked by a doctor. Proper diagnosis is essential for appropriate treatment.
4. Constant Feeling of a Bowel Movement
If you have a constant feeling of urgently needing to have a bowel movement or to strain but no stool is passed, it is not a good sign. This feeling can occur even after having a bowel movement.
Changes in your pattern of bowel movements can be a sign of colon cancer. It can occur when a tumor blocks the bowel and prevents you from completely emptying your bowels.
If you persistently have the sensation of incomplete evacuation after a bowel movement, discuss the problem with your doctor.
5. Narrow Stools
Thin, narrow stools are also a warning of possible colon cancer. A tumor present in the left side of the colon obstructs the passageway and often leads to narrow stools.
Do not delay discussing any change in your stools with your doctor. Diverticulitis and anal cancer can also cause narrowing of the stools.
6. Tender Abdomen or Abdominal Pain
If your abdomen, especially the lower part, hurts or feels tender when touched, this can be an early indication of tumor growth in the digestive tract, colon or rectum. In fact, abdominal pain is common in people who are later diagnosed with colon cancer.
A tumor can cause a block in the colon, restricting blood flow. This leads to abdominal pain that can be severe. This pain also can indicate that the cancer has begun to spread to other organs.
If abdominal pain or tenderness persists for more than 2 to 3 days, consult your doctor for proper diagnosis.