Signs and Symptoms of Cancer of the Colon: Why Early Detection is Important

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Cancer of the Colon

The large intestine, or colon, is the site for cancer of the colon. Rectal cancer is cancer of the last few inches of the colon. These cancers together are referred to as colorectal cancers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2006 more than 139,000 Americans were diagnosed with colorectal cancer, including nearly 69,000 women and 70,000 men. Among women, black women were the most likely to be diagnosed, followed by white women and Hispanics. In men, black men had the highest rates, followed by white, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native men. Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States.

Signs and Symptoms of Cancer of the Colon

The majority of cases of cancer of the colon start as small, benign clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps. As time goes on, some of these polyps turn into colon cancer. Polyps may be small and produce few symptoms or none at all. This is why the medical profession recommends regular screening procedures to find them before they turn into cancer. Hyperplastic and inflammatory polyps are other abnormal growths found in the colon and are not usually considered pre-cancerous growths. Some physicians believe they may be a sign of higher risk of developing adenomas and cancer, especially when they grow in the ascending colon. Another type of pre-cancerous condition is called dysplasia. These cells are found in the lining of the colon or rectum and appear abnormal under a microscope. They can become cancerous over time. Dysplasia is usually seen in people with other colon diseases such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

Signs and symptoms of cancer of the colon include: an alteration in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation, or a difference in stool consistency for more than two weeks; rectal bleeding or the presence of blood in your bowel movements; continued abdominal discomfort, such as gas, cramping or pain; the sensation that your bowel doesn’t completely empty; weakness or tiredness or weight loss for no apparent reason.

It is common for people with colon cancer to experience no symptoms in the disease’s early stages. Symptoms appear eventually, but they will vary, depending on the size and location of the cancer in your colon.

When You Have Symptoms

If you notice any symptoms of cancer of the colon, such as blood in your bowel movements or a difference in bowel habits, make an appointment to see your doctor. Your doctor may recommend further tests and procedures including blood tests, colonoscopy, a barium enema or virtual colonoscopy. If you are diagnosed with colon cancer, your doctor will order additional tests which tell the extent, or stage, of the cancer. Once this is determined, you will most likely have surgery, chemotherapy or radiation, or some combination of the three.


Mayo Clinic:

American Cancer Society:

Centers for Disease and Control Prevention: