Colon cancer symptoms can be almost non-existant in the early stages. Recognizing what to look for can save your life.
Colon cancer symptoms can be non-existant in the early stages of the disease. If you notice any change in bowel habits, those can be the first signs that something is amiss, and you should contact your doctor right away. Colon cancer symptoms can be broken down into two types--local and systemic. Local symptoms are those that are in the are of the body directly affected by the disease. Systemic symptoms are those that affect the entire body. The local colon cancer symptoms you should look for are:
- Changes in bowel movements, including diarrhea, constipation, or a different stool consistency
- Blood in your stool or black, tarry stool
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Abdominal symptoms such as cramps, gas, or pain, particularly if they persist and have no known cause.
- Feeling that you cannot completely empty your bowels.
Systemic colon cancer symptoms include the following:
- Weakness and/or fatigue
- Weight loss that cannot be explained by changes in diet or exercise
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- Anemia (low iron or low red blood cell count)
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
Any of the above colon cancer symptoms should not be ignored, especially if they have persisted for two weeks or longer. Even if it turns out that the symptoms you experience are from some other cause, it is always a good idea to have any physical changes checked out by a physician.
If you have experienced colon cancer symptoms and have called your doctor, he or she will schedule an appointment with you and will decide what tests you may need to take in order to get a proper diagnosis. If you suspect that there is blood in your stools, the doctor may order a fecal occult blood test (FOBT), which is a test that requires you to collect a stool sample. The doctor may provide you with a test kit or you may need to obtain one from a pharmacy. Always follow the specific directions included with the kit, but some general guidelines to be aware of are that certain foods, medications, and supplements may cause either false positives or false negatives. You may need to avoid aspirin, ibuprofen, Vitamins C supplements, and red meat for several days before collecting the stool sample. When you have collected the sample according to the kit's directions, you will need to send it to a lab for analysis. If the lab analysis shows that blood is present in your stool, your physician may order a colonoscopy or a flexible sigmoidoscopy.
Depending on the type and severity your colon cancer symptoms, your doctor may order a colonoscopy or a flexible sigmoidoscopy without doing a the fecal occult blood test. You will be sedated during the colonoscopy. The sigmoidoscopy only explores about the bottom third of the colon and typically does not require sedation. The day before having a colonscopy, you will need to empty your colon. Make sure to follow the doctor's orders on what to eat—usually clear liquids that do not contain red dye—and what laxative preparations to take.
While colon cancer symptoms can be scary, if you contact your physician right away for testing and diagnosis, you may be able to catch cancer in the early stages, when you are much more likely to survive.