Signs & Symptoms of Colon Cancer

For colon cancer (and any other type of cancer), early detection is important to allow for swift treatment and the best possible outcome and quality of life. Regular screening can prevent colon cancer by detecting precancerous polyps before symptoms develop. When symptoms do develop, it might indicate that the cancer has grown or spread. Colon cancer signs typically vary from patient to patient. Some of these symptoms are caused by the presence of a tumor, while others result from cancerous cells spreading to nearby tissues.

Common signs of colon cancer

The most common signs of colorectal cancer are blood on the surface of the rectum and changes in the frequency or consistency of an individual’s bowel habits. Potential warning signs include:

  • Chronic constipation or diarrhea
  • A persistent urge to pass stool
  • An inability to completely empty the bowels
  • Rectal bleeding
  • The formation of thin, ribbon-like stools

Other colon cancer signs include cramping and bloating in the pelvic or abdominal region, unexpected weight loss and unexplained fatigue. Abdominal pain can occur if a tear develops in the digestive tract, although this is extremely rare. 

How to reduce your risk of colon cancer

Colon cancer screening tests can be the difference between receiving a diagnosis of colon cancer and receiving a clean bill of health. Since colon cancer develops from precancerous polyps, removing those polyps before they become cancerous is crucial. A screening test, such as a flexible sigmoidoscopy, stool test or colonoscopy, can find those precancerous polyps so they can be removed. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommends adults begin screening for colon cancer at age 45 and then continue being screened at regular intervals after the initial test.

Your physician may recommend screening earlier or more frequently if:

  • You have a history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
  • You have a close relative that has had colorectal cancer
  • You have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • You have been diagnosed with Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)

When to contact a doctor

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms of colorectal cancer, it’s important to promptly talk with your doctor. Although diarrhea, bloody stools and other complications are often commonly caused by hemorrhoids or other noncancerous conditions, a physician or oncologist can help you determine the most likely reason for your symptoms. If your physician believes your symptoms might be the result of colorectal cancer, you may be advised to schedule a colonoscopy or other type of diagnostic test.

Moffitt Cancer Center offers a complete range of screening tests, diagnostics and treatments in a single, convenient location. If you are experiencing colon cancer signs, we can perform the necessary testing to determine the cause. Comprehensive treatment is also available if a diagnostic test confirms the presence of colon cancer, and referrals are not required to access any of these services. To learn more, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online.