The digestive tract is responsible for extracting energy from the food we eat.
Unfortunately, this highly efficient tract can fall prey to unusual and uncontrolled growth leading to the development of cancer.
The small and large intestines are prone to developing cancer.
If cancer arises in the large intestine it is most likely that the region will be the colon or the rectum.
The colon is the end part of the large intestine that connects to the rectum.
What Is Colon Cancer?
Due to the close proximity of the colon and rectum, cancer usually develops in both structures simultaneously and is, therefore, we call it colorectal cancer (CRC).
Colon cancer and rectal cancer usually coexist.
It begins with the formation of small, numerous, benign polyps in the intestine.
These clumps of cells are non-cancerous in nature and can change into precancerous polyps (tumors) over time.
The disease usually develops in adults but younger patients can get it too.
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer affects about 1 in every 23 men i.e. an overall lifetime risk of 4.3% exists for men.
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Causes And Risk Factors
Like most tumors, colon cancer/rectal cancer results from mutations in the DNA (gene mutations), but the oncologists identify no sure-short causes.
However, certain risk factors associate with colorectal carcinoma:
History Of Polyps
People with intestinal polyps are at a greater risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Research suggests that hyperplastic polyps might serve as precursors for rectal cancer.
Old Age And Family History
The disease is mostly diagnosed in men aged 50 years or older.
There are more chances of acquiring colorectal cancer if it exists in the family (blood relative).
50+ year-old men must get themselves screened routinely if they have a blood relative suffering from colorectal cancer.
Underlying Medical Conditions
People with the following underlying health conditions are colon tumor risk groups:
- Infirmities of the bowel (intestine) i.e. Ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease
- Familial adenomatous polyposis and Lynch syndrome
- Diabetes and obesity
Those who live a sedentary life and consume a high-fat, low fiber diet keep themselves one step closer to colorectal cancer.
Smoking, alcohol consumption also increases the risk.
8 Symptoms Of Colon Cancer/Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer may not show any symptoms and can progress silently.
This is especially true for the early stages.
When present, the most common colon cancer symptoms include the following.
1) Abdominal Cramps/Pain
Abdominal cramps might be the initial presentation of an uncontrolled tumor growing inside your colon.
The cramps may link with pain.
Abdominal pain is one of the three main symptoms of colon cancer.
A systematic review found that abdominal pain is present in 3.3 % of cases.
This is at times accompanied by excessive intestinal gas formation.
2) Constipation And Diarrhea
Changes in bowel movement carry diagnostic values for colon cancer.
Persistent abrupt movements leading to constipation or diarrhea are evident colon cancer symptoms.
Chronic constipation is not linked to colon cancer and is therefore not considered a colon cancer symptom.
However, it can be a presentation of colorectal cancer. A recent study identified constipation as a less specific diagnostic colon cancer symptom.
Diarrhea may also point towards the ongoing cancerous activity in the colon.
3) Incomplete Voiding Of The Bowels
Patients who have colon cancer often complain of having an inability to completely void the bowels.
This may be due to tenesmus i.e. cramping rectal pain.
Bowel obstruction may also be present.
If you have tenesmus, you might feel strained during bowel movements that ultimately leads to small stools and incomplete emptying.
Changes in bowel habits and intestinal obstruction can be colon cancer symptoms.
In fact, changes in bowel habits were seen in 51% of CRC patients in a study.
4) Bleeding From Rectum
Rectal bleeding is a major symptom of colon cancer in men.
It is one of the most common symptoms of colorectal cancer and is present in about 58% of patients.
The colon cancer symptom of occult bleeding is present in 77% of cases.
And it is usually accompanied by abdominal pain and anemia.
Moreover, rectal bleeding is a substantial symptom that points towards colon cancer in men.
5) Changes In Stool (Color/Shape)
Alterations in stool shape and color might be noticeable as an early colon cancer symptom.
The stool color carries a lot of importance and can help diagnose intestinal and liver abnormalities.
You might notice bloody or red stools.
A study suggests that melena (blood in stool) or hematochezia is frequently present as a colon cancer symptom.
Some patients also report having changes in stool shape i.e. a narrow stool.
This narrow caliber stool was found in 7.8% of subjects.
6) Weight Changes
Unintentional weight loss occurs in patients at later stages of the disease (stages 3 and 4).
If there is an unexplained loss of 5% of your weight within 6-12 months, then it must ring some bells because this can be life-threatening.
As per a study, long-term weight loss after a colorectal cancer diagnosis links with a lower survival rate.
Thus, you should closely monitor your weight if experiencing other colorectal symptoms such as melena, abdominal pain, bowel habit changes, etc.
7) Chronic Fatigue
Fatigue and weakness are part and parcel of any advanced cancer, and colon cancer is no exception.
Men who have colon cancer can have a poor quality of life due to the persistent feeling of lethargy and fatigue that doesn’t go away.
Reports show 40% of cancer patients acquire medical help for fatigue.
According to a study, pain and fatigue are barriers to improvement in the quality of life of CRC patients undergoing symptomatic management.
If colorectal cancer metastasizes to different parts of the body, jaundice may arise.
As per a case review, metastatic colon cancer can present itself as painless jaundice.
Another case report observed the development of obstructive jaundice in a 70-year-old man with transverse colon cancer that had metastasized.
Moreover, the presence of jaundice is indicative of the extensive spread of cancer to other organs and lymph nodes.
The involvement of lymph nodes is of critical importance in diagnosing the extent of the disease.
Cancer surgery is the majorly adopted treatment, but the surgeon often recommends what should be done; partial colectomy or just removal of the cancerous polyps.
Radian therapy and chemotherapy are used to shrink cases where surgery can’t be done.
When To See A Doctor
So, when do you need to see a doctor?
It is important to see a doctor if you are experiencing persistent symptoms.
Melena, abdominal pain/cramps, and unintentional weight changes must not go unnoticed.
So, if you have any of these symptoms, you must make an appointment and get your colon cancer screening done.
Above all, people with a family history of colon cancer must be extra cautious and get regular screening after 50.
Colon cancer is a life-threatening disease for men.
The eight major colon cancer symptoms include abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, melena, and unexplained weight loss.
Risk factors for the disease include intestinal polyps, poor lifestyle, and family history of colon cancer.
Above all, it is best to get colon cancer screening done after the age of 50.