- Posted by jdavis on August 1, 2011
In its early stage, colorectal cancer usually produces no symptoms. The most likely warning signs include:
- Changes in bowel movements
- Having diarrhea or constipation
- Feeling that your bowel does not empty completely
- Finding blood (either bright red or very dark) in your stool
- Finding your stools are narrower than usual
- Frequently having gas pains or cramps, or feeling full or bloated
- Losing weight with no known reason
- Feeling very tired all the time
- Having nausea or vomiting
Most often these symptoms are not due to cancer. Other health problems can cause the same symptoms.
Call your doctor if:
- You notice a change in your bowel movements, experience bleeding from the rectum, or notice blood in or on your stool. Don’t assume you have hemorrhoids; your doctor will most likely perform a rectal examination and possibly a sigmoidoscopy or schedule a colonoscopy — an examination that involves a long flexible tube inserted in your rectum.
- You experience persistent abdominal pain, unusual weight loss, or fatigue. These symptoms may be due to other causes, but they could also be linked to cancer.
- You are diagnosed with anemia. In determining its cause, your doctor should check for bleeding from the digestive tract because of colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer can take many years to develop and early detection of colorectal cancer greatly improves the chances of a cure. Therefore, screening for the disease is recommended in individuals who are at increased risk. There are several different tests available for this purpose.
- Digital rectal exam (DRE): The doctor inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel for abnormal areas. It only detects tumors large enough to be felt in the distal part of the rectum but is useful as an initial screening test.
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT): a test for blood in the stool.
– Sigmoidoscopy: A lighted probe (sigmoidoscope) is inserted into the rectum and lower colon to check for polyps and other abnormalities.
– Colonoscopy: A lighted probe called a colonoscope is inserted into the rectum and the entire colon to look for polyps and other abnormalities that may be caused by cancer. A colonoscopy has the advantage that if polyps are found during the procedure they can be immediately removed. Tissue can also be taken for biopsy.
In the United States, colonoscopy or FOBT plus sigmoidoscopy are the preferred screening options.