In the early stages of colon cancer there are no symptoms. The cancer may be the size of a dime and yet produce no symptoms.
In almost all cases, the symptoms depend on the location and size of the cancer. Colon cancers can occur on either the right or left colon and the symptoms can vary slightly.
Common Signs and Symptoms
The typical signs and symptoms of colon cancer include the following:
Change in bowel habits is probably the most common complaint. Many individuals will give a history of a gradual/sudden change in their bowel habits. Some may report being constipated or having incomplete bowel movements. Others may complain of intermittent diarrhea. Many individuals will also mention that their stool size is thin or pasty. The change in bowel habits may occur over a few weeks.
The individual always tends to believe that he/she probably ate something unusual and may try a laxative or an enema to remedy the situation. Anyone who suddenly develops changes in their bowel habits should consult a physician immediately.
Rectal bleeding is a common feature in individuals who have colo-rectal cancer. Some individuals will notice a sprinkle of blood after wiping. The blood may stain the tissue, but there is never excessive bleeding. In rare cases, a few drops of bright red blood may be seen. In the majority of cases, bright red blood in the stools may be from hemorrhoids or a rectal fissure.
Sometimes certain foods like beets or red licorice can make the stools bright red. Many people who take iron supplements will find that the stools appear black. The presence of blood in the stool is not normal and a visit to the physician is highly recommended.
Abdominal discomforts, such as bloated feelings, gas or cramps, may occur in some individuals. This feature is generally seen in the later stages of the cancer. When the cancer grows in size, it may obstruct the passage of stools, causing bloating and obstipation.
Over time, the majority of individuals develop fatigue and general malaise. Lack of energy and persistent fatigue are common complaints in individuals with colon cancer.
If the colon cancer remains undiagnosed, the majority of individuals will develop weight loss. The weight loss is minimal in the early stages of cancer but does progress with time. Lack of appetite, persistent nausea and vomiting can also occur depending on the size of the cancer. Unexplained weight loss should always be viewed with suspicion.
Any individual with unexplained weight loss, blood in the stools, or a change in bowel habits should consult a health care professional immediately.