If you notice these colon cancer signs, see a doc ASAP.
The most common symptom of colon cancer? “Nothing,” says Anthony Starpoli, MD, a gastroenterologist in New York City.
Colon cancer a growth of abnormal cells that occurs in the lining of the colon or rectum. This growth eats away at the normal cells, and converts them or replaces them with cancerous cells.
The Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Colon cancer often shows no symptoms because tumors can easily “hide” in the colon. “The colon holds stool; it holds debris. It can hold a tumor until you can recognize that it’s there, by way of pain or having bleeding. And at that point, you have an advanced lesion,” says Dr. Starpoli.
Colon cancer is routinely screened by colonoscopy and other procedures, but if you’re younger than the recommended screening age and notice potential colon cancer symptoms, it’s important to get them checked out. Cases of colon cancer among young adults are on the rise, research shows. According to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, people born in 1990 have double the colon cancer risk and quadruple the rectal cancer risk compared to people born around 1950, when risk was lowest.
These concerning colon cancer symptoms include:
- A change in bowel habits—like diarrhea, constipation, or pencil-like stool—that lasts for more than a few days
- The urge to have a bowel movement that isn’t relieved by doing so
- Rectal bleeding
- Dark stools, or blood in the stool
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
Here’s more about what the color of your bowel movements can reveal about your health.
The Key to Preventing Colon Cancer
“Colon cancer can most definitely be caught early—and really, it’s all about prevention,” says Starpoli. The American Cancer Association recommends regular screenings starting at age 50 for people at average risk of colon cancer. Those with an increased risk because of family history or other factors should get screened sooner. (Here are more crucial tests women need in their 50s.) Getting your stools checked for hidden blood as part of a physical exam should start annually by age 40, says Dr. Starpoli.
During a screening—usually a colonoscopy—doctors insert a camera into the colon to identify pre-cancerous growths, or polyps. These polyps, which can be as small as a seed or the size of a tennis ball, can be removed during the procedure, which can then prevent colon cancer from developing. “The process is quite unique in the fact that diagnosis and therapy is given in that same session,” says Dr. Starpoli.
“People need to understand that there is no one symptom for colon cancer. If you have symptoms of a cancer of the colon, you’re probably dealing with a more advanced situation. That’s why we recommend screening early, whether it be stool testing, colonoscopy, or some imaging like visual colonoscopy,” says Dr. Starpoli.
Dr. Starpoli is a board-certified gastroenterologist who is affiliated with Lenox Hill Hospital-Northwell Health, Mt. Sinai-Beth Israel Medical Center, and NYU Langone Medical Center.
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I'm often asked what is the most common
symptom of colon cancer and I say nothing.
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The colon holds stool, it holds debris.
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It can hold a tumor until you
recognize that it's there
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by way of pain or heavy bleeding, and
at that point you have an advanced lesion.
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Colon cancer is where a growth
occurs in the lining of the colon or
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rectum that invades in the direction
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of the wall of the colon into the deep
muscle layers, or outside of that area.
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This is a growth that takes away and
eats away at the normal cells and
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converts them, or replaces them with
this proliferation of malignant cells.
00:00:58,910 --> 00:01:02,550
Colon cancer can most
definitely be caught early, and
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really it's all about prevention.
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So we use primarily colonoscopy
using a tube with a camera to go
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into the rectum and
colon to identify little growths.
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They could be as small as a bebe or
as large as a tennis ball.
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And we have instruments that allow
us actually to take away polyps,
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these are the growths, these early
growths that are pre-cancer lesions.
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So by removing these polyps at a very
early stage we can prevent someone from
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developing colon cancer.
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So the process is quite unique
in the fact that diagnosis and
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therapy is given in that same session.
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Average risk groups should have
colonoscopy beginning at the age of 50.
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And I will say that these stools as part
of the physical examination checking for
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a colder hidden blood should actually
start annually at the age of 40.
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So concerning symptoms, if you're below
the recommended age at the start of
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colonoscopy concerning symptoms would
be a persistent change in bowel habits,
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unexplained bleeding, pain,
unexplained weight loss.
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You had a regular bowel movement daily and
for some reason you don't go
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as often any longer, or the stools
have become thin pencil-like stools.
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when a tumor grows inside to the opening,
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it begins to create almost like
a slit-like effect in the bowel.
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So when the stool goes through, it gets
shaped and people need to understand that
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there is no one symptom for colon cancer.
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If you have symptoms of
a cancer of the colon,
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you probably are dealing with
a more advanced situation.
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That's why we recommend screening early.
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Whether it be stool testing, colonoscopy
or some imaging like virtual colonoscopy.
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- American Cancer Society Guideline for Colorectal Cancer Screening. American Cancer Society. Atlanta, GA, 2020. (Accessed on December 25, 2020 at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/acs-recommendations.html)
- What should I know about Screening? CDC; Atlanta, GA, 2020 (Accessed on December 25, 2020 at https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/basic_info/screening/index.htm)
Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer. American Cancer Association. (Accessed on February 26, 2018 at https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/signs-and-symptoms-of-colon-cancer.html)Colorectal Cancer Incidence Patterns in the United States. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, Journal of the National Cancer Institute. (Accessed on February 26, 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28376186)