Colon cancer, which is also called colorectal cancer, is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women in the United States. For men, the overall risk of developing colon cancer is about one in 22, which equates to 4.49 percent.
Many symptoms can indicate colon cancer, but if someone has these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that they have this disease. There are many other explanations for the symptoms, such as infections or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
However, anyone experiencing new symptoms may wish to visit a doctor for a diagnosis.
The symptoms of colon cancer are the same in men and women and include the following:
1. Changes in bowel habits
An upset stomach or a minor infection can often cause changes in the bowels, such as constipation, diarrhea, or very narrow, thin stools. However, these issues usually resolve within a few days as the illness subsides.
Changes in the bowels that last more than a few days may be a sign of an underlying health issue.
If a person has these symptoms regularly or for longer than a few days, they should see a doctor.
2. Cramps and bloating
Occasional cramps or bloating are common digestive issues that can occur due to an upset stomach, gas, or eating certain foods.
Experiencing frequent, unexplained cramps and bloating can be a sign of colon cancer, though these symptoms are more often the result of other health issues.
3.Feeling as though the bowels are not empty
If a growth turns into a blockage in the colon, it may cause the person to feel as though they can never empty their bowels.
Even if their bowels are empty, they will still feel the need to use the restroom again.
4. Blood in the stool
Seeing blood in the stool can be frightening. The stool may have streaks of fresh red blood, or the whole stool may have a darker, tarry appearance.
There are many other possible causes of bloody stools, such as hemorrhoids. However, anyone experiencing blood in their stool should still see a doctor for a diagnosis.
5. Unexplained weight loss
Suddenly and unexpectedly losing weight is a sign of several types of cancer. Unintentionally losing 10 pounds or more within 6 months may be a sign to report to a doctor.
In people with cancer, the weight loss may be due to cancer cells consuming more of the body’s energy. The immune system is also working hard to fight the cancer cells.
If the tumor is large, it may lead to blockages in the colon, which can cause bowel changes and further weight loss.
People with colon cancer may feel constant fatigue or weakness, possibly due to the cancer cells using extra energy and the stress of bowel symptoms. Although feeling tired now and then is normal, chronic fatigue does not go away with rest.
Chronic fatigue is generally a symptom of an underlying condition. Anyone experiencing fatigue should see a doctor to help determine the cause.
7. Shortness of breath
Once cancer begins to drain energy from the body and fatigue sets in, it is common for people to experience related symptoms, such as shortness of breath.
They may find it difficult to catch their breath or might become winded very quickly from something as simple as walking a short distance or laughing.
African-Americans have a higher risk of developing colon cancer than people from other ethnic backgrounds.
Some factors may increase a person’s risk of developing colon cancer, including:
- a personal history of digestive issues, such as colorectal polyps or IBD
- a family history of polyps or colorectal cancer
- some inherited gene mutations, such as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC)
- getting older
- having type 2 diabetes
- some ethnic backgrounds, including being African American or Ashkenazi Jewish
It is not possible to prevent cancer in all cases, but making lifestyle changes to eliminate some risk factors may help a person reduce their likelihood of developing colon cancer.