Knowing the symptoms of colorectal cancer and understanding your risks of developing it may prevent this cancer from happening to you or help get a diagnosis as early as possible.

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Colorectal Cancer Symptoms

Some early stages of colorectal cancer (CRC) may not have any symptoms. This is why screening is so important! However, if you do have any signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer, at any age, do not ignore them. You need to tell a doctor.

Common symptoms of both colon cancer and rectal cancer include:

  • An ongoing change in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely)
  • Stools that are narrower, or thinner, than usual 
  • Blood (either bright red or very dark) in the stool 
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Frequent gas pains, bloating, a feeling of fullness, or abdominal cramps
  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Feeling very tired (weakness and fatigue)

Blood in the Stool

Not all cases of colorectal cancer will include rectal bleeding or blood in the stool; however, it’s a fairly common symptom and should alert you that something’s not right.

Tell your doctor! Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool should never be ignored. Sometimes a blood test will reveal anemia (a low red blood cell count), which may indicate further screening is needed to discover the cause of your low blood counts.

If you’re experiencing rectal bleeding, you should pay attention to the following factors and talk them through with your doctor:

  • The color of the blood and/or stool
  • Whether the blood is on or in the stool
  • If the blood is on the toilet paper or in the toilet bowl
  • How often the blood occurs
  • If any other symptoms accompany the bleeding

All of these symptoms can vary based on the person. The symptoms will also differ in severity based on the cancer’s location in the colon or rectum, size, and growth. Some colorectal cancer symptoms are most noticeable through changes with your digestive tract, but others can impact your entire body. Check with your doctor if you experience any of the above, regardless of your age.

No Signs or Symptoms

Some patients who undergo colorectal cancer screening have a polyp removed, or cancer discovered, yet had no idea anything was wrong.

It’s not uncommon for individuals diagnosed in the early stages (stage I or II) to not experience any signs of the disease. Symptoms of early-stage colorectal cancer are not always obvious or visible. Oftentimes it’s only when colorectal cancer has grown into late-stage cancer or spread that symptoms appear.

Regular screening can find polyps and remove them before they can turn into cancer, or catch early-stage cancer when it is still easy to treat. Starting at age 45, everyone needs to discuss colorectal cancer screening with their doctor, regardless of symptoms.

Conditions with Similar Symptoms

Other conditions can cause symptoms similar to colorectal cancer. For example, an infection, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or other GI issues. Some of these conditions may also be risk factors for colon cancer or rectal cancer. It’s important to know your body and speak with your doctor to discover the cause of your symptoms.

Your doctor can work with you to determine the best treatment plan for your current condition, as well as set up a prevention plan for a future case of cancer.

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