Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
Have you noticed a change in your bowel habit?
The colon cancer is common cancer and we must be aware of it. (part 1)
The colon is a 6-foot long muscular tube connecting the small intestine to the rectum. The colon, which along with the rectum is called the large intestine, is a highly specialized organ that is responsible for processing waste so that emptying the bowels is easy and convenient. The colon removes water from the stool and stores the solid stool. Once or twice a day it empties its contents into the rectum to begin the process of elimination.
The rectum is an 8-inch chamber that connects the colon to the anus. It is the rectum's job to receive stool from the colon, to let you know that there is stool to be evacuated and to hold the stool until evacuation happens.
What Is Colorectal Cancer?
Cancer that begins in the colon is called colon cancer, and cancer that begins in the rectum is called rectal cancer. Cancers affecting either of these organs also may be called colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer occurs when some of the cells that line the colon or the rectum become abnormal and grow out of control. The abnormal growing cells create a tumor, which is cancer.
Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
Depending on where the tumor is, symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
- Changes in bowel movements, including constipation or diarrhea that doesn’t go away
- Feeling like you can’t empty your bowels completely (tenesmus) or you urgently need to poop
- Cramping in your rectum
- Rectal bleeding
- Dark patches of blood in or on your stool
- Long, thin, stringy "pencil stools"
- Belly discomfort or bloating
- Loss of appetite and weight loss with no clear cause
- Pelvic pain
- Anemia (an unusually low number of red blood cells) because of bleeding in your intestines
Colorectal Cancer: 9 Things That Raise Your Risk
Anyone can get colorectal cancer, and doctors often don't know why someone gets it.
Although scientists don’t know the exact cause, they do know some of the things that make people more likely to get it. These include:
Age. The disease is most common in people over age 50, and the chance of getting colorectal cancer increases with each decade. But younger people can get it, too.
Gender. Colorectal cancer is more common among men. Men and women are equally at risk for colon cancer, but men are more likely to develop rectal cancer.
Polyps. These growths on the inner wall of the colon or rectum aren’t cancer, but they can be precancerous. They’re fairly common in people over age 50. One type of polyp, called an adenoma, makes colorectal cancer more likely. Adenomas are the first step toward colon and rectal cancer.
Personal history. If you’ve already had colorectal cancer, you could get it again, especially if you had it for the first time before age 60. Also, people who have chronic inflammatory conditions of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, are more likely to develop colorectal cancer than other people.
Family history. Do you have a parent, brother, sister, or child who has had colorectal cancer? That makes you more likely to get it, too. If that relative was diagnosed when he or she was younger than 45 years old, your risk is even higher. If conditions such as familial adenomatous polyposis, MYH-associated polyposis, or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer run in your family, that raises the risk for colon cancer (and other cancers), too.
Diet. People who eat a lot of fat and cholesterol and little fiber may be more likely to develop colorectal cancer.
Lifestyle. You may be more likely to get colorectal cancer if you drink a lot of alcohol, smoke, don't get enough exercise, and if you are overweight.
Diabetes. People with diabetes are more likely to develop colorectal cancer than other people.
Race. African-Americans are more likely than other U.S. racial and ethnic groups to get colorectal cancer. Doctors don’t know why that is.
If you have one or more of these risk factors, it doesn’t mean that you will develop colorectal cancer. But you should talk about your risk factors with your doctor. She may be able to suggest ways to lower your chances and tell you when you need to get checked.
Getting regular checkups and colon cancer screening is the best way to prevent colorectal cancer. Finding and removing colon polyps helps prevent colon cancer. In addition, colon cancer screening helps find cancer early, making a cure more likely.
Colon Cancer Screening for People at High Risk
People with the following risks should begin colon screening before age 45.
- History of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
- Close relatives who have had colorectal disease or polyps before age 60
- Family history of familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer or colonoscopy.
- If a positive genetic tests, colon removal should be considered because of the very high risk of colorectal cancer.
Dr. Rakesh Rai. MS, FRCS, MD, ASTS fellow
Consultant GI , HPB & Transplant surgeon