March 9, 2016

Signs of colon cancer: What men (and women) should know


03_09 Cancer Factoid

Early discovery can have a significant impact on a patient’s survival.

The good news: If colorectal (colon) cancer is found in the “local” stage, the chance of a five-year survival is 90 percent. The bad news: According to the American Cancer Society, only 40 percent of cases are diagnosed at an early stage, partly due to low screening rates.

What does “local stage” mean? The stages of colon cancer are as follows:

  • Polyp: Most colorectal cancers develop from these noncancerous growths.
  • In situ: Cancer has formed, but is not yet growing inside the colon or rectum walls.
  • Local: Cancer is now growing in the colon or rectum walls; nearby tissue is not affected.
  • Regional: Growth beyond the colon or rectum walls and into other tissue or lymph nodes.
  • Distant: Cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as liver or lungs.

While women should also be on the lookout for signs of colon cancer, overall the incidence and mortality rates are about 35 to 40 percent higher in men than women, according to the American Cancer Society. For average-risk individuals with no symptoms, screening should begin at age 50.

Signs and symptoms of colon cancer are broken down into two categories: local and systemic.

Signs of colon cancer include the following:

Local colorectal cancer symptoms

Local symptoms are those that have a direct effect on the colon or rectum.

  • Changes in your bowel habits
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Alternating diarrhea and constipation
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
  • Abdominal bloating, cramps or discomfort
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
  • Stools that are thinner than normal

Systemic colorectal cancer symptoms

Systemic colorectal cancer symptoms are those that affect your entire body.

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Anemia
  • Jaundice
  • Weakness or fatigue

As with most conditions, preventive tips include:

If you are having symptoms, talk to your doctor right away. Learn about colonoscopy and other screening and diagnostic tests for colon cancer here.