Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer

Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer
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Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is a type of cancer that affects the colon, also referred to as the large intestine. This type of cancer is the third most deadly cancer in the United States. The colon is located at the bottom end of the digestive system. The majority of colon cancer cases start as small, benign adenomatous polyps. As time passes, these turn into colon cancers. Many patients do not experience any colon cancer early symptoms, but it is important to know what they are because an early diagnosis can save lives.


Changes in bowel movements can occur in the early stages. Such changes include chronic constipation, bowel movement narrowing, black stools, chronic diarrhea and bloody stools.

Signs and symptoms of colon cancer that can occur as the cancer advances include chronic abdominal pain, a decrease in appetite, weakness, abdominal cramps, fatigue, gas, feeling like bowel movements are incomplete, and unexplained weight loss.

Causes and Risk Factors

Most cases of this cancer do not have a clear cause. However, the following conditions and issues are thought to cause this type of cancer: colon polyps, Lynch syndrome (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer), and familial adenomatous polyposis.

Risk factors include:

  • Being age 50 and older.
  • Being African-American.
  • A past history of polyps or colorectal cancer.
  • A family history of colon polyps or colon cancer.
  • Alcohol use.
  • Inflammatory intestinal conditions.
  • Radiation therapy for cancer.
  • Certain inherited syndromes.
  • Smoking.
  • A high-fat, low-fiber diet.
  • Diabetes.
  • A sedentary lifestyle.
  • Obesity.


If a patient has any of the colon cancer early symptoms they should consult their physician to see if they would recommend any of the diagnostic procedures for this condition. A blood test is usually the first thing a doctor will order. A blood test cannot provide a definitive diagnosis of this cancer, but it can help to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

The doctor may also recommend a colonoscopy. During this diagnostic test, the doctor will pass a small camera on the end of a thin, flexible tube through the patient’s entire rectum and colon. If they see something abnormal, they can pass a surgical tool through the same tube and extract a sample to be biopsied.

Imaging may also be done. The two main types of imaging done for this type of cancer are CT scanning and a barium enema x-ray.


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Surgery is often done to treat colon cancer, even in the early stages. If the cancer is localized in a polyp and small, surgery may completely eliminate the cancer. Other modes of treatment can include chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy, and radiation. In most cases, doctors will use a combination of treatments to treat this cancer.


Mayo Clinic. (2009). Colon Cancer. Retrieved on January 16, 2010 from the Mayo Clinic: