Colorectal cancer (also known as bowel cancer) is the second most lethal form of cancer, and the fourth most common form of the disease. For example, in 2008 alone there were over a million new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed, and approximately 608,000 fatalities. One of the reasons why it is so deadly is that it is a subtle illness that tends to produce only mild (or easily missed symptoms) until the cancer is quite advanced. If you are over fifty, you should have a regular screening to rule out colorectal cancer. However, it is also important for people of all ages to be extremely vigilant about some of the early symptoms. Read on to discover the top ten warning signs of colorectal cancer, and if you experience any of them then make an appointment to see a doctor as soon as possible.
1) Bloody bowel movements:
Although this sounds like a dramatic symptom, many people do not even notice that there is blood in their stools. It is not always obvious unless you are specifically looking for it, so it is a good idea to regularly inspect your bowel movements to see if any blood is present. The sort of blood that accompanies colorectal cancers is usually dark red or blackish in color, and you might notice it on the surface of the stool or mixed through it.
2) Unintentional weight loss:
If you notice that you are losing weight without any effort, you might find this to be a blessing at first. However, if it continues or if the weight loss is substantial, this is cause for concern. While there are other explanations for accidental weight loss (such as an overactive thyroid gland), colorectal cancer is sometimes the underlying cause of a mysterious shedding of pounds.
3) Mucus in your bowel movements:
Sometimes, the cause of visible mucus in your stools will be a painful but generally harmless condition such as irritable bowel syndrome (i.e. IBS). However, almost all cases of colorectal cancer are also accompanied by increased mucus production that can be seen when you have a bowel movement. Unless you have an existing diagnosis of a bowel problem like IBS, you should always seek medical advice if you notice mucus appearing along with your stools.
4) ‘Pencil shaped’ bowel movements:
Stools that are long and thin in appearance should be reported to your doctor, as they are a common indication of a developing case of colorectal cancer. This is because tumors in the colon are difficult for waste to pass by, meaning that the bowel movement gets squeezed into a thinner shape.
5) A diagnosis of anemia:
Anemia can occur in response to a whole range of health problems and nutritional issues, but it is also common in sufferers of colorectal cancer. This is because tumors in the colon tend to cause bleeding, and this steady blood loss eventually leads to the development of anemia. If you have recently been diagnosed with this condition, ask your doctor about the cause and mention that you are concerned about colorectal cancer.
6) Abdominal pain
Abdominal pain is a very general symptom that is linked to everything from appendicitis to muscle strains, but it is also worth noting that it often accompanies colorectal cancers. Typically, the abdominal pain that counts as a warning sign of this particular condition will also be accompanied by feeling bloated and overly full.
7) Changes in your bowel movements:
Several bowel movement changes can be indicative of colorectal cancer. These include pain when passing a stool, frequent bouts of diarrhea, regular constipation, and the sensation that you are unable to fully empty your bowel.
8) Pelvic pain:
The majority of pelvic pains are connected with reproductive problems, but people in the later stages of colorectal cancer also tend to experience pain near their pelvis.
9) Bleeding from the anus:
As you probably know, the most common cause of small amounts of rectal bleeding is hemorrhoids (i.e. painful but benign swellings just inside the rectum). However, you should never diagnose yourself with hemorrhoids if you notice blood on the toilet paper after having a bowel movement. Colorectal cancers do cause rectal bleeding, and it is essential that a doctor evaluate you in order to determine whether your particular case is harmless or more sinister.
10) A general sense that you are ill:
This symptom is not specific to cases of colorectal cancer, but is a general symptom of most forms of cancer and should be taken as a warning sign if experienced in conjunction with any of the above. You may notice that you are feeling lethargic, depressed, weak and fragile.
Naturally, no one looks forward to discussing something as personal as bowel movements, and everyone dreads the prospect of having a rectal examination. However, immediately reporting any concerns about colorectal cancer substantially reduces your chances of dying from the disease, and will often afford you some much-needed peace of mind in the process.
If you suspect you may have colorectal cancer, Urgent Clinics Medical Care can sceen you for colorectal cancer. Visit any of our convenient locations in the Houston Metropolitan area including Pearland, Champions, The Woodlands and 3 locations in League City: Creekside, Marina Bay and Tuscan Lakes. No appointment is necessary and our experienced healthcare providers can administer professional medical services with very little wait time.