Knowing the colorectal cancer symptoms and understanding your risks may prevent this cancer from happening to you, or help you catch it as early as possible.
Some early stages of colorectal cancer may not show any signs. (Which is why screening is so important). If you have any signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer, do not ignore them. You need to tell a doctor.
Colorectal Cancer Symptoms
Colon cancer symptoms and rectal cancer symptoms overlap and can be grouped together. Common symptoms of both cancers include:
- An ongoing change in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely)
- Stools that are narrower than usual
- Blood (either bright red or very dark) in the stool (poop)
- 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.
Colorectal Cancer Screening
All adults with an average risk of colorectal cancer need to undergo routine screenings starting at age 45. However, those with a family history of colorectal cancer or any other risk factors should begin screening earlier than age 45. African Americans also face a slightly higher risk and need to discuss screening earlier.
If you see any signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer, you may need to be screened sooner. However, some people with colorectal cancer don’t experience any symptoms. Be sure you’re aware of your body and talk with your doctor at the first sign of any colorectal cancer symptoms.
Check out these screening resources to help answer questions about colorectal cancer screening.
No Signs or Symptoms
Starting at age 45, everyone needs to get screened for colorectal cancer, regardless of symptoms.
Regular screening procedures can find polyps and remove them before the cancer can begin to grow, or they can catch early-stage cancer. If caught early, colorectal cancer is highly treatable. Some patients who undergo 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.
Watch stage I colorectal cancer survivor Scott Lagasse, Jr.’s story:
Conditions With Similar Symptoms
It’s pretty common for other conditions to cause some colon and rectal cancer symptoms. An infection, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and other GI issues can also bring similar symptoms. It’s important to know your body and speak with your doctor to discover the cause of your symptoms and find treatment.
These conditions may also be risk factors for colorectal cancer.
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.