Would You Be Able To Tell If You Had Colon Cancer?
According to the CDC, colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths among White, Black, and Asian women, right behind breast and lung cancer. While the risk is a bit lower for women, this doesn’t mean they’re not affected.
Colon cancer isn’t the most “glamorous” of cancers if you can even call cancer “glamourous.” I mean, it hasn’t been widely celebrated with ribbons and marches. This is probably because it involves a less-than-appealing part of the body.
So, many people run the other way when it comes to awareness and screening, using not-so-sophisticated but appropriate words like “Ewwww” and “gross.” But while no one wants to talk about it, let’s go over some facts!
Colorectal cancer refers to any cancer that begins in the colon or rectum, making up the large intestine in your gastrointestinal tract. Certain growths or polyps can form in your colon or rectum.
Most are undoubtedly benign, but particular types are at a high risk of becoming cancerous. By this, I mean: sessile serrated polyps, adenomatous polyps, and serrated adenomas.
Hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps usually don’t develop into cancer. With all this, there IS a silver lining! Colon cancer, specifically, is one of the most preventable types of cancer if you catch it early.
So, what are the symptoms?…Keep reading to find out some more about the 10 main ones. But first, how much are YOU at risk?
What should we take into account when it comes to colon cancer?
Men AND women, both, are at risk for colon cancer (This isn’t really what women had in mind when they fought for equal rights!!!)
While it’s important to know your own personal risks, more than 75% of the people diagnosed with these types of cancers have no known risk factors. The following factors RAISE your risk of getting colon cancer:
- If you have a parent, child, sibling, or any other relative that was diagnosed with colon cancer, especially under the age of 50.
- Do you have a family history of an inherited genetic syndrome, like Lynch syndrome?
- If you or any other member of your family has had any kind of polyps.
- Have you had any kind of Inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis?
- If you’ve ever had a diagnosis of breast, ovarian, or endometrial cancer.
- Do you live a sedentary lifestyle?
- Being overweight or obese also doesn’t help!
- Do you overeat red and processed meats?
- If you’ve been living on a diet that’s low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Do you smoke or regularly drink alcohol?
…If you think that a few of these apply to you, you might want to go and get checked out! Meanwhile, check out the signs you should look for:
Are You Extremely Fatigued ALL The Time?
Yes, living an agitated lifestyle CAN lead to extreme fatigue. But to feel this way all the time isn’t normal. While it’s easy to brush off your fatigue as lack of sleep and weight loss due to stress, you should be discussing these changes with your doctor.
If your fatigue just won’t let up and you also have a few other symptoms, like blood in your stool, consult a doctor ASAP.
Have You Been Seeing Any Significant Changes On Your Skin?
A change in the shape, size, or color of a mole and the development of new spots are just a few common signs of skin cancer. You should see your doctor for a thorough exam and, if necessary, perhaps a biopsy. This is one instance when you shouldn’t wait.
Problematic Bowel Movement
A good thing to keep in mind is that our bodies love routine. You should experience the same bowel movement at 70 as you did at 20. Once you’re set in your patterns, it really shouldn’t change.
You should see a specialist if you notice anything different. Changes can mean diarrhea, constipation that won’t go away, or even going from having one bowel movement a day to four times a day.
Also, look out for pencil- or pen-like stools. This can indicate a tumor squeezing or partially blocking the colon, causing stool to become thinner than usual.
Tumors or polyps that are associated with colon cancer can also change bowel movements’ consistency, shape, or frequency.
Are You Having Trouble Swallowing?
If you’re having trouble swallowing occasionally, there’s nothing to worry about. But when it begins to happen often, especially along with vomiting or weight loss, your doctor might want to check you for throat or stomach cancer.
Have You Experienced Unexplained Weight Loss Recently?
The pain and discomfort that is caused by a tumor may lead to loss of appetite, resulting in weight loss. This sudden unexplained weight loss can signify that a tumor releases chemicals that increase one’s metabolism.
The sudden loss of weight can accompany colon cancer, but it’s rarely a direct sign of the problem. Weight loss is usually the result of a different type of colorectal cancer: abdominal discomfort or pain.
If it becomes too painful to process food, a person will consciously or even subconsciously limit or stop eating food. This is a problem for various reasons.
First, if the cause of the abdominal discomfort is colon cancer, then eating less and losing weight will only worsen the situation by depriving the body of the much-needed nutrients, including fiber.
Therefore, if you’ve been losing weight and eating less because of abdominal pain, see your doctor as soon as you can.
Have You Been Feeling Shortness Of Breath Recently?
Along with anemia, breathing trouble can be another sign that internal bleeding is occurring. Mainly, it’s an indication of a slow bleed, which commonly happens with colon cancer due to ruptured cancerous polyps.
Patricia Raymond, M.D., explains why this symptom occurs: “If you aren’t bleeding aggressively or vomiting blood, your body puts more plasma in the blood without making any more iron or red blood cells, preventing you from losing blood in big volumes but reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, which is where the shortness of breath comes in.”
How Can Colon Cancer Be Diagnosed?
Even if you haven’t had symptoms, you should regularly get the recommended screening tests to look for cancer. These include:
- Stool tests: Stool tests use a chemical or antibodies to detect blood or altered DNA in your stool. Depending on the kind of test, you will get this done between one to three years.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy: A short and thin tube is inserted into your rectum to look for polyps or cancer in the rectum or lower part of your colon. You will get this test done once every five years.
- Colonoscopy: People with an average risk get this done every ten years, starting between the age of 45 and 50.
- CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy): X-rays produce images of the colon for your doctor to study.
If you have any signs of colorectal cancer or need follow-up testing for an abnormal finding, you will need some further tests to find out what is happening.
Some Final Thoughts
Doctors usually recommend beginning screening around age 45 for people of average risk.
Symptoms of colon cancer can be pretty confusing because they can mimic many other conditions like infection, irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids, or inflammatory bowel disease.
But if you see any blood in your stool or if you’re bleeding from your rectum, you have unexplained fatigue, cramps in your lower abdomen, or a change in the appearance of your stool, see your health care professional as soon as possible.
Remember that just because you don’t have any symptoms doesn’t mean you don’t actually need a colonoscopy. Many people have been diagnosed with colon cancer without having any symptoms.
There are usually no signs or pain until the disease has already progressed. Typically, the earlier the cancer is found, the easier it will be to treat. Studies show that colon cancer has a five-year survival rate of 92% when found early.
Bes sure to let us know in the comments if you’ve had your own experience with this issue. And for some more “Healthy Reads” we also highly recommend: Are You Getting Enough Vitamin B6? Here Are 5 Important Benefits