Signs of Colon Cancer – 6 Silent Signs You Need to Start Screening as Soon as Possible

Many of the signs of colon cancer can also be caused by something that isn’t cancer. That is why diagnosing the condition can be challenging and difficult.

For example, infections, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, or hemorrhoids can also cause the similar and sometimes same symptoms as colon cancer [1]https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/signs-and-symptoms-of-colon-cancer.html.

And it is worth noting that in most cases, people experiencing symptoms of colon cancer, do not have cancer. Now, that doesn’t mean that you can and should ignore the symptoms and problems.

It is best to check with your physician, just so you be sure there is nothing wrong. Early diagnosis is essential for successful treatment.

The problem is, in many cases, when colorectal cancer is the cause for the problem, the signs appear only after the cancer has already grown or spread. Therefore, some doctors recommend testing for colorectal cancer even before you experience any symptoms.

Cancer found before the symptoms appear, and found through screening is usually easier to treat. Screening can help you prevent colon cancer by removing pre-cancerous growths called polyps.

The importance of screening

The problem with colorectal cancer is that it doesn’t cause symptoms until the condition is in its later and advanced stages. That is why screening is so important.

In recent years, statistics show that new cases of colon cancer in young people, and the number is increasing. For people at average age of 45, the American Cancer Society recommends regular screening tests [2]https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/acs-recommendations.html.

People with family history of cancer, and those in risk groups should begin screening at a younger age. When colon cancer is diagnosed in its early stages, before it has spread to other organs, the survival rate is higher than 90%.

With that in mind, the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include:

  • Change in bowel habits
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Change in the consistency of your stool
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in the stool
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort, including gas, cramps, and pain
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely

Most people do not experience symptoms in the early stages [3]https://www.cancer.gov/types/colorectal/research. But if you notice any of the following symptoms, and you cannot detect the root of the problem, a good idea is to talk with your physician.

Causes of colon cancer

Doctors have so far failed to find a clear cause of colon cancer. So far, doctors have only manage to determine that colon cancer occurs when healthy cells in the colon develop errors in their genetic blueprint, the DNA.

Healthy cells grow and divide in an orderly way. This keeps your body functioning normally.

However, when the DNA of the cell is damaged and becomes cancerous, the cells continue to divide, and as the cells accumulate, they form a tumor. With time, cancer cells grow and invade normal tissue [4]https://www.nih.gov/research-training/advances-colorectal-cancer-research.

Gene mutations and colon cancer

Inherited gene mutations that increase the risk of colorectal cancer can be passed through families. These inherited gene mutations are linked to only a small percentage of colon cancer cases.

They do not make cancer inevitable, but they do increase your risk of cancer. The two most common forms of gene mutations include:

  • Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, or HNPCC, which is also called Lynch syndrome. People with the syndrome tend to develop colon cancer before they are 50 years old
  • Familial adenomatous polyposis, or FAP, a rare disorder that causes you to develop thousands of polyps in the lining of your colon and rectum

Both of these gene mutations can be detected through genetic testing.

Diet and colon cancer

Several studies have shown there is an association of a typical Western Diet and an increased risk of colon cancer [5]https://www.gastrojournal.org/article/s0016-5085(17)35534-8/fulltext[6]https://globalnews.ca/news/3975258/cancer-western-diet/. The name Western Diet is associated with a diet high in fat and low in fiber.

Even when people move from an area of a regular diet to an area where the diet is high in fat and low in fiber, the risk increases.

Other risk factors

There are a number of factors that increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer. They are:

  • Older age, majority of people diagnosed with colon cancer are older than 50
  • African-American race
  • Personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps
  • Inflammatory intestinal conditions, like ulceratie colitis and Crohn’s disease
  • Inherited syndromes that increase the risk of colon cancer
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • People with diabetes and insulin resistance have an increased risk of colon cancer
  • People who are obese also have an increased risk of colon cancer
  • Smoking is a risk factor for almost all types of cancer

Survival rate

Survival rates can tell you what portion of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive after they have been diagnosed.

They won’t tell you how long you will live, but they can give you a better understanding of how likely it is that your treatment will be successful. Some people want to know the survival rates for their cancer type and stage, while others do not.

Statistics on the outlook for a certain cancer type are often given as a 5-year survival rate, but many people live longer than five years [7]https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/about/key-statistics.html.

To understand the percentage, a 90% survival rate means that 90 out of 100 people diagnosed with cancer are still alive 5 years after being diagnosed. Bear in mind, these survival rates are not perfect, and they not always tell the whole story.

With that in mind, here are the survival rates for colon cancer, by stage [8]https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/survival-rates.html:

  • The 5-year survival rate of people with Stage I colon cancer is 92%
  • Survival rate for people with Stage IIA colon cancer is 87%, while the rate for Stage IIB is 65%
  • The 5-year relative survival rate for Stage IIIA colon cancer is about 90%, while the one for Stage IIIB is 72%. The survival rate for Stage IIIC is about 53%
  • Colon cancer that has spread to other parts of the body is hard to treat, and tends to have a poorer outlook. With that in mind, the survival rate of Stage IV colon cancer is 12%

Stage IV symptoms

Stage means that the disease has traveled beyond your colon. This means you can have cancer cells in your lungs, liver, and other organs.

Your doctor will uses tests to diagnose and pinpoint where cancer has spread design a treatment that will work best for you. When your cancer has progressed through Stage IV, you will experience the following symptoms:

  • Blood that is dark red or black in color in your stool
  • Constant constipation and diarrhea, which can be also symptoms of other less serious conditions
  • Long, thin, and pencil-like stools, which is a sign something is blocking your colon from working normally
  • Fatigue and weakness, as the tumor is bleeding and you are losing iron
  • Abdominal pain or bloating, as the cancer will cause a blockage making it hard to fully empty your bowel, resulting in feeling of bloating
  • Unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more, when you haven’t changed your diet or exercise habits

Statistics show that in the United States, 20% of people who find out they have colon cancer, learn that the tumor has spread to distant parts of their body.

In most cases, colon cancer spreads to the lungs, liver, and the lining of the abdomen, but can also reach the bones.

Prevention

You can reduce the risk of colon cancer by making changes to your lifestyle habits.

These include:

  • Consuming a lot of different fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that are rich in minerals, vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants
  • Reduce alcohol consumption. Moderate consumption of alcohol is ok, but that translates to one or two drinks per day at most
  • Quit smoking, since smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for cancer growth and development
  • Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. For those who are inactive, start slowly, but build gradually toward the 30 minutes milestone
  • Maintain a healthy weight by combining healthy diet with daily exercise. If you are obese, talk with your doctor how you can lose weight
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