Colorectal Cancer: What are the Common Signs and Symptoms?

In its early stages, colon cancer or colorectal cancer will not manifest any signs or  symptoms. Colon cancer symptoms typically manifest after it has spread. Regular screenings for colorectal cancer are important if you are at higher risk because of family medical history or other pre-existing medical conditions e.g. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) or familial polyposis syndromes.

Testing via screening methods such as stool occult blood tests or colonoscopy is the only way to prevent colon cancer by detecting it in its early stages.

Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

Depending on where the cancer (malignant tumour) is, some of the more common colon cancer symptoms and signs include:

  • Fatigue – feeling tired easily or more often
  • Abdominal pain
  • Changes in bowel movements (including diarrhoea and constipation that is persistent)
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Tenesmus (sensation of incomplete emptying)
  • Long, stringy, and thin “pencil tools”
  • Belly distention (eg feeling more bloated)
  • Belly discomfort
  • Weight loss (unintentional)
  • Loss of appetite

Factors That Can Increase Your Risk

Anybody can get colorectal cancer.  Below are some of the factors that can increase your risk for colorectal cancer:

  • Age: Colorectal cancer is more common in people over the age of 50 years because polyps (tissue growths in the inner linings of the colon or rectum which can turn cancerous with time) are more common for people in this age group. The chance of getting colorectal cancer increases with each decade past 40 years old. Cancers are rare in people younger than 40 except those individuals with a strong family history of the condition.
  • Gender: Colorectal cancer is  statistically more common in men; but BOTH women and men are equally at risk for colorectal cancer.
  • Health/medical history: Individuals who have had colon/rectal cancer before can get it again. This is especially likely if they were diagnosed before the age of 60. The same is true for those who have had polyps. In addition, those with long-term conditions such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis (IBD) are more likely to develop colorectal cancer.
  • Family history: The unusual genes that allow cancers and polyps to develop can run in the family. If you have a sister, brother, child, or parent who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, you are also more likely to get it. Your risk is also higher if your relative was diagnosed before 45 years old or if you have several family members with colorectal cancer or polyps. If certain conditions like familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) run in the family, it raises your risk for colon cancer as well.
  • Lifestyle: You have a higher chance of colorectal cancer if you smoke, do not get enough exercise, and / or drink excessive alcohol. You are also at a higher risk of developing the condition if you are overweight.
  • Diet: Those who eat a lot of saturated fat, red meat, and food that is high in cholesterol are more likely to develop the condition.
  • Diabetes: Those individuals with diabetes are more likely to get colon cancer.

If you have one or a combination of the  above risk factors mentioned, you are more likely to develop colon cancer or polyps. It is also ideal to to look out for symptoms such as rectal bleeding or any change in your bowel habits. If you notice anything unusual, do check with your doctor right away.

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