Colon cancer – also known as colorectal cancer – is often referred to as “the silent killer.” The thing is, there usually are symptoms; we just don’t notice them. These are the silent symptoms of colon cancer to watch out for. If you have any of them, visit your doctor right away.
The Silent Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Our bodies are constantly sending us messages about our health, if only we were paying close enough attention to notice them. This is especially true when it comes to colon cancer. The “silent” symptoms of colon cancer are not actually silent, they’re just subtle and something you may not notice, especially if you are a woman.
When it comes to early detection, knowledge is power. These are the “silent” symptoms of colon cancer to watch out for. While they don’t mean 100% that you have cancer, you should go get checked out by your doctor to rule it out.
1. Change in bowel movements
Naturally, our bowel movements aren’t always the same. Depending on what you’ve eaten, how much water you’ve drank, your environment, and how much exercise you’ve been doing, your bowel movements can change. The key here is that these changes persist for more than just a few days. (1)
These changes can include (1):
- Narrowing of the stool
Thin stools could indicate a partial blockage in the colon because of a tumor. Pay attention as well to the color and consistency of your stools. (1)
This is the feeling like you have to go to have a bowel movement, but when you do have one, that feeling doesn’t go away. This could be a sign that you’ve got a tumor in your colon that makes you constantly feel as though you need to pass something. (1)
3. Cramping or abdominal pain
This one can be especially challenging for females, as we tend to experience cramping, bloating, and abdominal pain on a semi-regular basis. Persistent cramping, lower abdominal pain, and bloating and gas can be a sign, however, of colon cancer. If these symptoms last for more than a few days, and for women particularly outside of regular PMS and period symptoms, see your doctor. (1)
4. Blood in the stool
Sometimes rectal bleeding can be obvious because you will see bright red blood in the stool. Other times, however, it might be less so. Sometimes blood in the stool won’t appear red at all. In fact, it will more likely turn the stool a very dark brown or black color. (1)
If you notice either of these – bright red blood or stool color changes – you should take note and see your doctor. While again, it might not be cancer, you want to make sure that it isn’t. (1)
5. Unexplained weight loss
Though you may be happy about losing weight without trying, you should be aware that this could be a symptom of colon cancer. Your body uses up a lot of energy trying to fight off cancer, colorectal included. Some cancers alter how your body uses up food, and colon cancer specifically can change your bowel habits and affect your appetite. (1)
6. Weakness and fatigue
As already mentioned, fighting off cancer requires a lot of energy. On top of that, colon cancer can cause anemia – bleeding elsewhere in the body. Anemia caused by colorectal cancer can actually show up several months before you notice any blood in your stools. (1)
Anemia can show up as (1):
Again, these symptoms don’t necessarily mean that you have cancer. However, if you start experiencing some unexplained tiredness or weakness, you should talk to your doctor. Bring up your concerns and make sure you get the tests you want.
Regular Screenings Are Key
The hardest part about colon cancer is that it often doesn’t show symptoms until it has grown or spread. Regular screenings, especially if you have a family history or other risk factors, are key to catching it early. The earlier the cancer is detected, the better off you will be. (1)
Risk Factors For Colon Cancer
Besides family history, there are a variety of other risk factors associated with colon cancer. These include (2):
- Being overweight or obese
- Sedentary lifestyle (a lack of adequate physical activity)
- Diets high in red meats and processed meats
- Low blood levels of vitamin D
- Moderate to heavy alcohol use
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Racial and ethnic background: African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews
- Type 2 Diabetes
None of these guarantees that you will get cancer, however, if you have any of these it is even more important to be aware of the symptoms of colon cancer.
Detection and Treatment
There are a variety of screening tests your doctor will use to determine if you have colon cancer. These include (1):
- A colonoscopy
- CT or CAT scan
- Gene and protein tests
From there, treatment depends on the stage of cancer, how big the tumor or tumors are, and whether or not cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy are all common options. (1)
Finally, remember that if you have symptoms, don’t panic. Stress is not good for the body, cancer or no. Do, however, go talk to your doctor. Even if you don’t have cancer, there could be something else happening in your body that is worth getting looked after.
- “Do I Have Colorectal Cancer? Signs, Symptoms and Work-Up.” Cancer. February 8, 2021.
- “Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors.” Cancer
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