Common Signs of Colon Cancer to Discuss with Your Doc
Regular screenings with your primary care physician (PCP) are your best bet for catching cancer early, when it is most treatable.
This is especially true when it comes to colon cancer.
Most cases of colon cancer begin with benign clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps that, given time and opportunity to grow, can eventually evolve into colon cancers.
Colon cancers often produce zero symptoms indicating anything is wrong. It isn’t until the cancer has progressed to an advanced stage that people begin to suspect something might be off.
The No. 1 symptom to watch for is a change in bowel habits – whether frequency, consistency or color of your stool – that lasts longer than four weeks.
“Most colon cancers are diagnosed as a result of symptoms that often include a change in bowel habits, especially constipation or narrowing in stool caliber,” says Dr. Jason Pirga, an internal medicine physician at Straub Medical Center.
Other common colon cancer signs and symptoms include:
- Cramping or abdominal pain/discomfort.
- Feeling like you need to have a bowel movement even after having one.
- Rectal bleeding.
- Abdominal or rectal masses.
However, some signs can be so subtle that they often go unnoticed
“A gradual onset of fatigue or unintentional weight loss are symptoms that may be caused by colon cancer,” Pirga says, noting that other tell-tale symptoms, like bloody stool, can be chalked up to another health condition.
“Sometimes, patients may see blood on toilet paper after defecation and attribute the bleeding to hemorrhoids, not thinking that there may be a mass growing further up on the colon,” he explains. “Colon cancers also are sometimes found after patients are diagnosed with anemia on routine lab work.”
If you experience any of these symptoms, Pirga advises leaving embarrassment at the door and speaking with your PCP immediately.
“We encourage patients to discuss abnormal changes with their bowel movements with their primary care physician,” he encourages. “These discussions may lead to earlier detection of colon cancer or precancerous polyps, and may ultimately save your life.”
The American Cancer Society recently changed its recommendations for when to start screenings, lowering the age from 50 to 45 for those at average risk.
For a list of other important preventive health screenings to discuss with your PCP, click here.
Published on: March 7, 2019