You’ve heard about colorectal cancer. You might even know that it’s the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the US and the third leading cause of cancer-related death. But do you know how to spot it? Do you know what some of the signs of colon cancer are? Some of the symptoms tend to mirror other more common digestive ailments, which can make it easy for some people to ignore. Here are six things you should talk to your doctor about that may indicate a need for colon cancer screening and testing.
Your bowel habits are always subject to change, but things like constipation or diarrhea shouldn’t last a long time. If you have these symptoms for a few days, it could be as a result of a stomach bug or something you ate. These changes may also be accompanied by cramping and bloating. But if these issues persist, you should discuss it with your doctor as it could be a sign of something more serious.
Occasionally, traces of blood might show up in your stool as a result of hemorrhoids, but this should also not last very long. This blood can appear as either fresh, red blood or as a dark tar-like substance. It is always best to err on the side of caution. If you notice blood in your stool, see your doctor.
When your digestive system is operating as it should, you should feel relief after having a bowel movement. For people with colorectal cancer, that relief might not come. Since colorectal cancer begins as a result of polyps in the colon, large tumors and growths causing a blockage can contribute to the feeling of a full bowel.
If you find yourself losing weight when you’re not trying, this could be a sign of colorectal cancer. There are a couple of explanations for why, including that cancer cells consume a lot of the body’s energy, or that there is a tumor in your colon causing bowel changes that can result in unintended weight loss. Those same reasons may also be why you feel constant fatigue that isn’t relieved even with sleep and rest. If you’ve dropped 10 pounds or more within 6 months time, let your doctor know.
Alongside feelings of fatigue, those with colon cancer also report feeling a shortness of breath, even while doing their regular daily activity.
Personal and family history play a big part in colorectal cancer diagnoses, and you should certainly discuss everything you know about yours with your doctor. Anyone who has a family history with colorectal cancer automatically falls into an increased risk category and may be advised to begin screening earlier than the recommended age of 45, which is when those at an average risk should begin. These recommendations are based on a host of factors including the degree of separation from a relative who has had colorectal cancer and the age when they were diagnosed.
Once you’ve gathered all of your family history information and visited one of our doctors for testing information, we will be able to guide you in the best direction based on your individual circumstances. However, the best way for our doctors to detect colorectal cancer is through regular colonoscopies. A colonoscopy is a simple, in-office exam and it the gold standard for detecting colon cancer and polyps. Our doctors will examine your colon, looking for abnormalities and polyps that could be early signs of cancer. Depending on your health and the results, you may only have to have one every 10 years. There are additional tests available as follow-ups or complements to a colonoscopy.
One of the biggest benefits of getting regular colonoscopies is that doctors are actually able to catch signs of pre-cancer. If your doctor finds an abnormal growth or polyp during your colonoscopy, it can be removed or further monitored, thus preventing it from turning into a cancerous growth.
If you’re ready to have your first colonoscopy or you’re worried about some symptoms you’ve been experiencing, book an appointment to see our team at Carolina Digestive Health Associates today.