Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer

signs and symptons

signs fight crcColorectal cancer can be a preventable cancer. Knowing the signs and symptoms of colon cancer and understanding your risk may stop a cancer occurrence.

All adults with an average risk of colorectal cancer need to undergo routine screening for colon and rectal cancer beginning at age 50.  African Americans face a slightly higher risk and need to be screened beginning at age 45. Those with a family history of colorectal cancers need to be screened earlier than age 50 as well.

Learn more about screening for colorectal cancer.

Symptoms of Colon Cancer and Rectal Cancer

Although the signs can vary, common symptoms of colorectal cancer may include:

  • No signs or symptoms at all
  • A change of bowel habits
  • Blood (either bright red or very dark) in the stool
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • Stools that are narrower than usual
  • Frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, or cramps
  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Feeling very tired

Check with your doctor if you experience any of the above symptoms, regardless of your age. Remember colorectal cancer is preventable!

Colon Cancer Risk Factors

Several factors may place you at a higher risk for colorectal cancer. If you have any of the following risk factors, speak with your physician about when it’s recommended that you undergo colorectal cancer screening.




Over 90% of those diagnosed with colorectal cancer are over age 50. As we age, we are more likely to grow polyps which have the gene changes that turn normal tissue into cancer.


If you have a personal cancer history of colon polyps or colon cancer, rectal cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer or breast cancer – you may be at an increased risk of colorectal cancer. You may also want to talk with your doctor about whether genetic testing is appropriate for you.


If you’ve been diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disorder such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease, you are at a higher risk for colorectal cancer. Talk with your doctor about when your screening should begin.


Two of the most commonly known genetic conditions put individuals at a higher risk for colon and rectal cancers:  Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), also known as Lynch Syndrome. If you are diagnosed with a genetic syndrome you will be at an increased risk for colon cancer. Speak with your physician about when screening is right for you.


If you or a family member has a history of colorectal cancer, or colon polyps, you may be at an increased risk for colorectal cancer. Generally, screening for family remembers is recommended to begin 10 years prior to the survivor’s age of diagnosis. (For example, if your loved one was diagnosed at age 52, family member screening needs to begin at age 42.)

If your family has a known genetic syndrome, screening may be recommended earlier. Talk to your doctor about the best option for you.



Low physical activity, obesity, smoking and heavy alcohol use are all linked to a higher incidence of colorectal cancer.


A diet high in red meats (beef, pork, lamb) processed meats and fats may all be linked to colorectal cancer.

Preventing Colorectal Cancer

While colorectal cancer screening is the most important way to prevent colorectal cancer, there are lifestyle changes that can reduce your risk for polyps and colorectal cancer. There is convincing evidence that the following strategies can decrease colorectal cancer risk:

  • Don’t smoke
  • If you do smoke, stop
  • Increase your physical activity
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Avoid overall body fat, especially fat around your waist
  • Reduce how much red meat and processed meats you eat
  • Use alcohol in moderation

There is probable evidence that these additional strategies can reduce risk:

  • Increase foods that contain dietary fiber
  • Include garlic in your diet
  • Drink more milk if you can tolerate it
  • Add foods with calcium
  • Use alcohol in moderation if you are a woman

While over 90 percent of colon and rectal cancers are found in people over the age of 50, anyone at any age can get colorectal cancer.

People younger than 50 need to protect themselves by knowing their family cancer history and their own medical history. Those with a family history of certain cancers or with certain medical conditions may need to begin colonoscopy screening earlier and be tested more often.

In addition, everyone, no matter how old they are, should be aware of the symptoms of colorectal cancer and you have any of these symptoms, be sure to talk to your doctor about the appropriate colon screening for you to determine the cause of your symptoms.

Reviewed by Heather Hampel, 9/30/13, The Ohio State University

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