What are the Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer death in many Western countries. In the United States, for example, it is the third most common cancer of adult men and women. Early detection of colorectal cancer allows for the chance of a complete cure, so recognizing symptoms is of prime importance. Symptoms of colorectal cancer include lasting changes in bowel habits, abdominal pain and blood in stool.

Common symptoms of colorectal cancer include fatigue, unexplained or unintended weight loss and lasting changes in bowel habits, which typically will include diarrhea. Someone with this type of cancer might have a feeling of fullness, pressure or straining in the rectum and pain in the rectum or abdomen. A lump in the rectum or abdomen sometimes can be felt. In some cases, the person might bleed from the rectum or have bloody stools. Sometimes, this bleeding can be accompanied by anemia.

In addition to symptoms of colorectal cancer, the cancer sometimes can cause complications such as a bowel obstruction. Someone with a bowel obstruction will experience pain in the abdomen, nausea, vomiting, feeling bloated and constipation. Other possible complications include spreading of the cancer to other parts of the body and development of another colorectal tumor.

Sometimes, symptoms of colorectal cancer do not manifest until the disease is considerably advanced, making treatment difficult and prognosis poor. This means that people with one or more colorectal cancer risk factors should be aware of the increased risk and perhaps should consider undergoing annual screening for colorectal cancer. Risk factors for colorectal cancer include a diet high in processed meat or red meat, the development of colorectal polyps, having an inflammatory bowel disease or having another type of cancer. People with a family history of colon cancer and people older than 60 also have an increased risk.

Diagnosis of colorectal cancer is not always clear-cut, even when symptoms are present. One problem with diagnosis of this type of cancer is that some symptoms of colorectal cancer are non-specific. This means that the symptoms of this cancer resemble symptoms of other bowel diseases that are not malignant. For example, many inflammatory bowel diseases cause changes in bowel habits and weight loss, and hemorrhoids can cause rectal bleeding and pain. This means that it is important to pay attention to any and all symptoms and ensure that they are reported to a doctor, so that he or she has all of the information needed to make an accurate diagnosis.


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