Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is a malignant tumor found within the large intestine. This form of cancer comes about due to the presence of abnormal cells within the colon or the rectum. It is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.
There are two main risk factors for developing this type of cancer: age and genetics, but other risk factors include not consuming enough fiber, having chronic constipation, being obese, and suffering from inflammatory bowel disease. Colorectal cancer most commonly affects people over 50, but it can also happen in younger patients. Some people inherit genes that make them more susceptible to the disease, and others acquire risk factors later on as they age.
In most cases, colon cancer develops due to a change in the DNA of polyps found in the colonic mucosa. The DNA of these cells changes in response to inflammation and chronic irritation of the mucosa, and as a defense mechanism, they increase the exchange of cells, which results in accelerated and uncontrolled cell growth. That’s how a benign polyp turns into cancer after many years.
Colon cancer is less common than other forms of cancer and can be hard to detect. Thus, it is commonly diagnosed in later stages, when treatment may be less effective. More than 90% of colon cancer cases are preventable; this means that steps can be taken to prevent this cancer from occurring. One of the ways to detect this cancer and start treatment is by paying attention to its symptoms.
What are the symptoms of colon cancer?
The first symptoms of colon cancer may not always be obvious. Symptoms often overlap with other ailments but can also be vague and subtle. Thus, early detection is difficult because warning signs are usually lacking when the disease has not yet reached a late stage. If colon cancer is diagnosed in its early, most treatable stage, the survival rate is 90%. Thus, instead of waiting for signs and symptoms, you should consult with your doctor to see if you’re a candidate for screening.
Still, if you notice the following signs and symptoms in yourself or your loved ones, it is better to be safe than sorry. Talk to your doctor about it, and take their advice. The signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:
1) Change in bowel habits
These patients may experience unusual or more frequent bowel movements. This includes not only diarrhea but also constipation. It could also have both, alternating frequently. There is no apparent reason for the change, and it is independent of what the patient eats or the volume of fluids they drink.
These changes in bowel habits are mild in the first stages of the disease and keep worsening as the disease reaches a late stage. At first, it might be very difficult to differentiate between constipation or diarrhea from colon cancer and more common gastrointestinal conditions such as infections and food poisoning.
Thus, this symptom is often set aside because patients and their doctors initially think it is due to something else. More common diseases will always be ruled out first, and in treating these diseases, the symptoms may change, and both patients and doctors believe such change confirms the diagnosis. It is not until formal screening for colon cancer is done that such a condition can be ruled out.