Colorectal cancer may not present any symptoms, especially in the early stages. If you do experience symptoms during the early stages, they may include:
- Changes in stool color
- Changes in stool shape, such as narrowed stool
- Blood in the stool
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Excessive gas
- Abdominal cramps
- Abdominal pain
If you notice any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss getting a colon cancer screening.
Stage 3 or 4 symptoms (late stage symptoms)
Colorectal cancer symptoms are more noticeable in the late stages (stages 3 and 4). In addition to the above symptoms, you might also experience:
- Excessive fatigue
- Unexplained weakness
- Unintentional weight loss
- Changes in your stool that last longer than a month
- Feeling like your bowels don’t completely empty
If colon cancer spreads to other parts of your body, you may also experience:
- Jaundice (yellow eyes and skin)
- Swelling in hands or feet
- Breathing difficulties
- Chronic headaches
- Blurry vision
- Bone fractures
CAUSES COLORECTAL CANCER
Researchers are still studying the causes of colorectal cancer. While there’s a growing list of risk factors, they act alone or in combination to increase one’s risk for developing colorectal cancer.
Abnormal cells accumulate in the lining of the colon, forming polyps. These are small, benign growths. Removing these growths through surgery is a common preventive method. Untreated polyps can become cancerous.
Sometimes colorectal cancer occurs in family members. This is due to a gene mutation that passes from parent to child. These mutations don’t guarantee you’ll develop colorectal cancer, but they do increase your chances.
RISK FOR COLORECTAL CANCER
There are some factors that may increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer:
Some factors that increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer are unavoidable and can’t be changed. Age is one of them. Your chances of developing this cancer increase after you reach the age of 50.
Some other unavoidable risk factors are:
- A prior history of colon polyps
- A prior history of bowel diseases
- A family history of colorectal cancer
- Having a genetic syndrome, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
- Being of Eastern European Jewish or African descent
Other risk factors are avoidable. This means you can change them to decrease your risk of developing colorectal cancer. Avoidable risk factors include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Heavy drinking of alcohol
- Having type 2 diabetes
- Having a sedentary lifestyle
- Consuming a diet high in processed foods or red meats
TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR COLORECTAL CANCER
Treatment of colorectal cancer depends on a variety of factors. The state of your overall health and the stage of your colorectal cancer will help your doctor create a treatment plan.
In the earliest stages of colorectal cancer, it might be possible for your surgeon to remove cancerous polyps through surgery. If the polyp hasn’t attached to the wall of the bowels, you’ll likely have an excellent outlook.
If your cancer has spread into your bowel walls, your surgeon may need to remove a portion of the colon or rectum, along with any neighboring lymph nodes. If at all possible, your surgeon will reattach the remaining healthy portion of the colon to the rectum.
If this isn’t possible, they may perform a colostomy. This involves creating an opening in the abdominal wall for the removal of waste. A colostomy may be temporary or permanent.
Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. In the case of colorectal cancer, chemotherapy is a common treatment after surgery to destroy any remaining cancerous cells. Chemotherapy also controls the growth of tumors.
While chemotherapy provides some symptom relief in late-stage cancer, it often comes with side effects that need to be controlled with additional medication.
Radiation uses a powerful beam of energy, similar to that used in X-rays, to target and destroy cancerous cells before and after surgery. Radiation therapy commonly occurs alongside chemotherapy.
Certain risk factors for colon cancer, such as family history and age, aren’t preventable. However, lifestyle factors that may contribute colorectal cancer are preventable, and may help reduce your overall risk of developing this disease.
You can take steps now to reduce your risk by:
- Decreasing the amount of red meat you eat
- Avoiding processed meats, such as hot dogs and deli meats
- Eating more plant-based foods
- Decreasing dietary fat in your diet
- Exercising daily
- Losing weight, if your doctor recommends it
- Quitting smoking
- Reducing alcohol consumption
- Decreasing stress
- Controlling pre-existing diabetes