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What Are Colon Cancer Symptoms?

Colon Cancer Symptoms are Scary but You Can Learn What to Do if You Have Them

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Updated July 17, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What Are Colon Cancer Symptoms?

Image of the gastrointestinal tract.

A.D.A.M.

Getting a Handle on Colon Cancer Symptoms

Colon 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:

  1. Local
  2. Systemic
 

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:

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)
  • Jaundice (yellow color to the skin and whites of the eyes)
If you experience any of these for any length of time, even a few days, call your doctor right away to discuss your concerns and arrange for tests to get to the bottom of your symptoms.

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!

Diagnosis of Colon Cancer and How Not to Dread Colon Cancer Screening provide detailed information on screening procedures, plus tips on how to make preparing for these tests easier.

Sources

The American Cancer Society: Learn about Colon and Rectum Cancer. Accessed: January 20, 2009.
http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/CRI_2x.asp?sitearea=&dt=10

The Colon Cancer Alliance. Accessed: January 20, 2009.
http://www.ccalliance.org

The Colorectal Cancer Coalition. Accessed: January 20, 2009.
http://www.fightcolorectalcancer.org

The Colon Cancer Foundation. Accessed: January 20, 2009.
http://www.coloncancerfoundation.org

The National Cancer Institute: Colon and Rectal Cancer. Accessed: January 20, 2009.
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/colon-and-rectal

Related Video
See What to Expect at a Colonoscopy

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