Because the symptoms of colon and rectal cancer are not easy to recognize, early diagnosis is missed.
First, many people with colon and rectal cancer (also known as colorectal cancer) do not have any symptoms until the disease is in its later stages, when it is more difficult to treat.
That’s why it’s so important to detect seemingly unaffected people.
Colorectal cancer deaths have declined in recent decades, in part due to increased screening for asymptomatic forms of cancer.
Screening tests can detect abnormal growths called colon polyps, some of which may be precancerous. When doctors remove dangerous polyps, they stop cancer before it starts.
Another challenge in diagnosing colon and rectal cancer is that despite symptoms, cancer patients and doctors often blame other common conditions such as hemorrhoids and irritable bowel syndrome.
In addition, many young people ignore the symptoms because they believe that colon cancer only affects older people. (one)
However, although the majority of colon cancers are diagnosed in the elderly, the incidence in men and women under the age of 50 is increasing dramatically.
A 2017 American Cancer Society study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that people born in 1990 had twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer compared to those born in 1990. 1950. (2)
In response to this alarming trend, the American Cancer Society changed its guidelines in 2018, recommending that people at average risk of colon cancer be screened at age 45 instead of age 50. (3)
RELATED: Cancer Society Now Says Colon and Rectal Cancer Screening Should Start at 45, Not 50
Colon and rectal cancer signs and symptoms
Regardless of your age, the following symptoms should be a reason to see a doctor.
Diarrhea, constipation, narrowing of the stool (stool), and changes in the nature of the stool lasting more than a few days.
I feel like I need to have a bowel movement, but it’s not getting any better
Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
Blood in the stool makes it dark.
Abdominal cramps and pain (stomach)
Weakness and fatigue
Accidental weight loss
People with colon cancer may not have rectal bleeding or blood in their stools, but for most people, these are the most noticeable symptoms of the disease.
These symptoms occur when the tumor invades the gastrointestinal tract. It happens so slowly over the years that blood in the stool goes unnoticed.
Such continuous bleeding over a period of time leads to a decrease in the number of red blood cells, which is called anemia.
A blood test to diagnose anemia may be the first step in diagnosing colon and rectal cancer. (four)
RELATED: 10 Foods That Help Constipation
Discuss your symptoms with your doctor
After you describe your symptoms to your doctor, they will perform a physical exam to determine the cause.
Your doctor will ask about your medical history and whether any family members, especially parents, siblings, or children, have had colon cancer.
Most people with colon cancer do not have a family history, but about 1 in 5 do.
In rare cases, genetic mutations, such as Lynch syndrome, are passed down from generation to generation, predisposing a person to colon cancer.
Your doctor will want to know if you are at risk for colon cancer, especially colon or rectal cancer.
These can include colon cancer, precancerous polyps, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
There is also a link between type 2 diabetes and colon cancer.
Other risk factors include obesity or overweight, lack of physical activity, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking.
A physical examination and blood tests are part of the examination
After your doctor takes your medical history, the next step may be a physical exam, which involves gently pressing on your abdomen and feeling for enlarged or enlarged organs.
The doctor may lubricate your rectum and insert a gloved finger inside to check for abnormalities.
Your doctor may order blood tests to look for changes that may indicate colon disease.