Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, but the survival rate is 91% if the cancer is diagnosed at a localized stage. "Many young people don't recognize colorectal cancer symptoms, don't pay attention to them or aren't sure what to do or who to talk to," says Yi-Qian Nancy You, MD, MHSc, associate professor in Surgical Oncology. "But knowing the symptoms, taking action and catching cancer as early as possible are the best ways to beat it." Here are five signs of colon cancer, according to doctors. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Rectal bleeding could be a sign of colon cancer and should never be taken lightly, doctors warn. "If anyone has any change in their bowel habits, if they have any bleeding—even if they think it's a hemorrhoid, and it doesn't go away—just get a colonoscopy," says Vikram Reddy, MD, PHD, colorectal surgeon.
Thin Stools, Fatigue
Other common symptoms of colon cancer are narrow stools, gas pain, bloating, cramping, weight loss, and fatigue. "You may think colon cancer is mainly a man's disease, but the truth is, almost as many women as men are diagnosed with colorectal cancer," says Fariha Sarij, MD. "According to the American Cancer Society, each year in the U.S., about 64,000 women are diagnosed with colorectal cancer. It is the third most common cancer in men and women, and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Your lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 20. It's important to know the symptoms and how to prevent this easily preventable cancer."
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting can be a sign of colon cancer, experts warn. "Nausea and vomiting can occur if a colon or rectal tumor is obstructing the bowel and inhibiting the passage of liquid or solid waste or gas," says Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Bowel blockage can also be accompanied by painful abdominal cramps, bloating and constipation… If you experience persistent nausea, signs of dehydration or vomiting that lasts for more than 24 hours, seek immediate medical treatment."
A family history of colon cancer can be a risk factor for getting the disease—so if it runs in the family, make sure to get regular screenings. "Depending on the particular syndrome you have, you also may be at high risk for cancer in other organs, such as your stomach, bladder, skin, brain, uterus or liver," says David Liska, MD, a colorectal surgeon and expert in inherited colorectal cancer.
Can Colon Cancer Be Prevented?
Regular screenings are important for both prevention and treatment. "Colon cancer is one cancer that can often be easily prevented," says Dr. Sarij. "The reason? It almost always starts with a small growth called a polyp. When polyps are found early and removed during colonoscopy, colon cancer can be stopped before it even starts. The very best way to find polyps is by having a colonoscopy. This procedure allows a gastroenterologist to both find and remove polyps at the same time. Most people should get their first colonoscopy at age 50. Those who have a family history of colorectal cancer or related cancers, and those with certain health conditions need to be checked at an earlier age."