Signs & Symptoms of Colon and Rectal Cancer

Nearly all colon and rectal (colorectal) cancers begin as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called polyps, which can develop into cancer over time. As with most other cancers, the disease’s signs and symptoms may be minor or non-existent during the early stages. Because of this, doctors recommend regular colorectal cancer screening tests after the age of 50 for most people.

Find out more on risk factors of colon and rectal cancers

Once polyps turn into cancer and begin to spread, they often produce some noticeable symptoms. But first, you must be aware of these signs and symptoms. 

Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

It is important to understand that symptoms of colorectal cancer are sometimes caused by noncancerous conditions such as hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or an infection. Still, if you have any of these problems, you should see your doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated, if needed. 

People with colorectal cancer may experience the following signs or symptoms: 

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Continuous abdominal pain
  • Blood in the stool 
  • Rectal bleeding with bright red blood 
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Feeling you cannot empty your bowels (called tenesmus)

Again, these symptoms could be related to something other than colorectal cancer. If any of these problems arise, however, it is a good idea to see your doctor. Earlier detection can make colorectal cancer easier to treat.

Colorectal Cancer Screening Recommendations

Colorectal cancer is often preventable through regular screenings, which can find polyps before they become cancerous. Currently, the American Society of Clinical Oncology recommends routine colon screening for most people starting at age 50. However, because there is an increasing incidence of colorectal cancer in younger people, you might consider screening as early as age 45. It's important to learn your family history of cancer, know your risk, and get regularly screened at the appropriate age to detect colorectal cancer at an early stage.  

Talk with your doctor about when screening should begin based on your age and family history of the disease, as well as what type of screening test(s) would be right for you. 

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