Colorectal cancer, sometime known as colon cancer, is a type of cancer that begins when healthy cells in the lining of the colon (large intestine) or rectum change and grow out of control, forming a mass called a tumour. Benign tumours of the large intestine are called polyps. Polyps do not invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body. It can be easily removed during colonoscopy, and are not life threatening. However, over time some of these polyps can become colorectal cancers if left untreated.
Often people with colorectal cancer have no symptoms initially. That is why screening is so important. Here are 5 colorectal cancer symptoms that are easy to overlook:
Persistent Abdominal Discomfort
There are many causes of stomach or abdominal discomfort, from food intolerance to viruses. And yet, persistent cramping, bloating, distention or abdominal pain could be an indicator of colorectal cancer. Meanwhile, nausea and vomiting can occur if a colon tumour is obstructing the bowel and blocking the passage of solid or liquid waste or gas. Consult your doctor if you experience frequent abdominal discomfort with no obvious causes.
Blood in Stool
Cancer can bleed. One of the most disturbing symptoms of colorectal cancer can be bleeding from the rectum or blood in the toilet. Conditions such as haemorrhoids or fissures could also cause blood in the stool. However, rectal bleeding caused by cancer usually continues or worsen and is more likely to be accompanied by pain. Anyhow, if you notice blood, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Change in Bowel Habits
Bowel habits can vary from person to person. This includes how often you have a bowel movement, the consistency and the colour of your stool. Changes in any aspect of these habits over the course of a day represent a change in bowel habits.
Persistent constipation or diarrhoea can relate to many other things, but which can also be a symptom of colorectal cancer. Study revealed that individual with constipation may be associated with a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer as the longer the stool stays in the colon, it increases the contact of bile acids or other carcinogens in stool with the gut wall. If you notice the problem seems to continue constantly even when you take steps to address it, it’s time to speak with you doctor.
Besides that, pay attention to what’s in the toilet, even if you don’t see blood – it can reveal lesser-known colorectal cancer symptoms. A consistent narrow or skinny stool shape could point to a restriction in the colon caused by polyps.
Unexplained Weight Loss
Your weight can fluctuate due to variety of reasons. A life-changing or traumatic event can cause you to lose weight unintentionally. Even having a very hectic schedule for a period of time can trigger a temporary shift in your diet habits and activity level, causing you to lose a few pounds. If you have shed pounds and you were not trying to, be sure to let your doctor knows in order to evaluate the possible causes of unintentional weight loss.
For instance, cancer cells can release substances into the body that change the way food is digested. These substances also affect the body’s metabolism, disrupt the hormones that regulate your appetite and thus, contribute to weight loss.
Weakness and Fatigue
It can be easy to confuse fatigue with simply being tired. Fatigue is a daily lack of energy, a whole-body tiredness not relieved by sleep. It can last for days, weeks or months. Sometimes colorectal cancer can cause fatigue due to internal blood loss from the disease. The fact is the symptoms of colorectal cancer are often linked. Other signs and symptoms such as unintentional weight loss and a shift in bowel habits will make you feel weaker.
As with other possible colorectal cancer symptoms, feeling fatigue and weak is extremely far from clear cut – as it could be due to many other non-cancer related issues. Still, as with any persistent health issue, it should not be ignored.
- Melton, E. & Kehl, K. A. (2015). Managing Chronic Diarrhea With Colorectal Cancer. Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing, 17(5). https://nursing.ceconnection.com/ovidfiles/00129191-201510000-00005.pdf
- Sundbøll, J., Thygesen, S. K., Veres, K., Liao, D., Zhao, J., Gregersen, H., & Sørensen, H. T. (2019). Risk of cancer in patients with constipation. Clinical epidemiology, 11, 299–310. https://doi.org/10.2147/CLEP.S205957