Getting a Handle on Colon Cancer SymptomsColon cancer symptoms aren't always obvious, but you can learn what these symptoms look and feel like. Understanding colon cancer symptoms is important, because you can use this knowledge to work with your doctor to find out the cause and take care of your long-term health.
What is the Colon?
In order to understand what colon cancer symptoms might feel like, it helps to learn a bit about the colon. The colon is an important part of the digestive system, and as such, it has a major role in helping the body absorb nutrients, minerals, and water. The colon also helps rid the body of waste in the form of stool. The colon makes up the majority of the large intestine, approximately six feet in length. The last six inches or so of the large intestine are the rectum and the anal canal.
What are the Symptoms of Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer can have many symptoms. However, in the early stages, people with colon cancer often have no symptoms at all. This is why regular screening beginning at 50 is an important investment in your healthy future.
Colon cancer symptoms come in two general varieties:
Local Colon Cancer Symptoms
Local colon cancer symptoms affect your bathroom habits and the colon itself. Some of the more common local symptoms of colon cancer include:
- Changes in your bowel habits, such as bowel movements that are either more or less frequent than normal
- Constipation (difficulty having a bowel movement or straining to have a bowel movement)
- Diarrhea (loose or watery stools)
- Intermittent (alternating) constipation and diarrhea
- Bright red or dark red blood in your stools or black, dark colored, "tarry" stools
- Stools that are thinner than normal ("pencil stools") or feeling as if you cannot empty your bowels completely
- Abdominal (midsection) discomfort, bloating, frequent gas pains, or cramps
If you experience any of these for two or more weeks, call your doctor right away to discuss your concerns and arrange for tests to get to the bottom of your symptoms.
Systemic Colon Cancer Symptoms
Systemic colon cancer symptoms are those that affect your whole body, such as weight loss, and include:
- Unintentional weight loss (losing weight when not dieting or trying to lose weight)
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained fatigue (extreme tiredness)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Anemia (low red blood cell count or low iron in your red blood cells)
- Jaundice (yellow color to the skin and whites of the eyes)
What Should I Do if I Have Colon Cancer Symptoms?
Call your doctor so he or she can set up an appointment to see you. During the appointment your doctor will take a medical history, collect blood samples for testing, and schedule you for follow-up tests, if needed.
Many people are afraid of colon cancer screening. They worry that it will hurt and that it is embarrassing. Your doctor and nurse have performed hundreds, and in some cases even thousands, of these procedures. There is nothing to be embarrassed about and remember: Even your doctor and nurse undergo these same tests to take care of their own health.
Preparing for Colon Cancer Tests
If you are worried about preparing for your colon cancer tests, ask your doctor about how best to get ready for any procedures. There are different medications for clearing your colon of stool to ensure a good screening. There is no reason to suffer in silence!
The American Cancer Society: Learn about Colon and Rectum Cancer. Accessed: January 20, 2009.
The Colon Cancer Alliance. Accessed: January 20, 2009.
The Colorectal Cancer Coalition. Accessed: January 20, 2009.
The Colon Cancer Foundation. Accessed: January 20, 2009.
The National Cancer Institute: Colon and Rectal Cancer. Accessed: January 20, 2009.