Colorectal cancer is often referred to as a symptomless disease; many people do not notice any symptoms until they are diagnosed. However, there are some symptoms associated with colon cancer; patients experiencing such symptoms should see a board certified gastroenterologist, like the team at Gastroenterology Associates, for further testing and diagnosis. There are also abnormalities, lesions, and polyps which can be identified by gastroenterologists during routine colonoscopies, allowing for early detection and treatment.
Colon cancer can interrupt the functioning of the bowel even in its earliest stages. The colon functions in the absorption of water and some nutrients, as well as the removal of waste from the body. The local symptoms of colorectal cancer occur as the colon fails to digest food and excrete waste normally. These will vary based on the size and location of the cancer. In addition, some systemic symptoms may occur, affecting the whole body. Symptoms include:
- Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding; in extreme cases, anemia can be a related symptom
- Changes in bowel movements, such as persistent or new-onset constipation or diarrhea
- A feeling of being unable to void bowel completely
- Persistent abdominal pain, including cramps, gas, and bloating
- Unexplained weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
- Abnormal tissue in the colon, as identified in a colonoscopy
Patients experiencing these symptoms should notify their physician. All of these symptoms can also occur as a result of other, more minor conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, hemorrhoids, infection, or change in diet. Only diagnostic testing can identify the cause of these symptoms.
Risk of colorectal cancer is distributed fairly evenly across race and gender lines. However, there are several diseases, lifestyle choices, and genetic factors which are associated with a higher incidence of colon cancer. These include:
- Age: Most cases occur in people over the age of 50; accordingly, routine colonoscopies usually start at that age
- Family history: People with a family history of colorectal cancer should start routine screening at age 40 (or 10 years earlier than the age of the relative at diagnosis), and pay special attention to gastrointestinal symptoms
- Inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heavy alcohol use
None of these factors mean that you will get colorectal cancer, just as not having risk factors does not mean you won't develop colon cancer. However, your doctor should be aware of your family history and full medical history, especially if you are experiencing symptoms that may be related to colorectal cancer.
If you have symptoms associated with colon cancer, timely diagnosis and treatment is essential. However, because colon cancer can be asymptomatic, especially in the early stages, routine screening is also important. When caught early, the prognosis for colorectal cancer patients is excellent.
If you are 50+ years old or fall into one of the high risk categories listed above and you haven’t yet considered preventative screening for colorectal cancer, you may want to take the next step in protecting your future with preventative screenings, like colonoscopy. The Gastroenterology Associates are specialized and highly experienced in screening for, detecting, and treating colorectal cancer and the precursors to colorectal cancer (ie polyps). Contact the Gastroenterology Associates for an appointment today.
Disclaimer: All information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and should not replace the consultative advice and experienced feedback from your physician. Always consult with your physicians on any of your questions and concerns.