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Warning Signs Of Colon Cancer

Updated on February 12, 2016

Colon cancer usually occurs in individuals after the fifth decade, but it is not rare earlier in adult life. The distribution of this cancer is such, that rectum is the most affected part, next comes the sigmoid colon, and after that the caecum. In any case of bleeding via the fecal route in individuals over the age of 40, a complete investigation of the colon should be performed.

Warning signs of colon cancer, such as a sudden alteration in bowel habits, bloating, and blood in stools should not be ignored

Alarming Signs Of Colon Cancer

The most common warning signs that should raise an alarm, include the following:

  1. Alteration in bowel habits: An adult previously having a predictably regular bowel habit, suddenly develops irregularity or a change in consistency of stools. There may be increasing constipation, requiring laxatives. The episodes of constipation may be followed by attacks of diarrhea.
  2. Palpable lump: A lump may be felt in the lower abdomen, on the right or left side, depending on the location of the tumor. This lump is not necessarily the tumor itself, but the impacted stools above it.
  3. Pain: Episodes of severe colicky pain in the suprapubic area (middle of the lower abdomen) can occur. This severe cramping is caused by intestinal obstruction due to the tumor. It may at times mimic the pain of acute appendicitis, and the tumor may be discovered unexpectedly during the appendicectomy operation. On rare occasions, the appendix is swollen, surrounded by pus, or even gangrenous due to the obstruction caused by a tumor blocking its mouth. In advanced stages, the pain becomes a dull, constant ache. Another cause of pain is tearing the bowel or perforation, with the leaking of intestinal contents into the abdominal cavity, and causing inflammation and infection.
  4. Distension: Lower abdominal distension is not uncommon, and as with pain, is relieved with the passage of flatus. A distended belly bulges out more than it did a few months ago, without any weight gain.
  5. Tenesmus: Tumors in the lower part of the colon may give rise to a feeling of the need for evacuation, which may result in tenesmus (a sense of incomplete evacuation) accompanied by the passage of blood and mucus, especially in the early morning. The blood can be seen in stools, or at times make them look darker.
  6. Bladder symptoms: These are not unusual, and in some instances, signify a colovesical fistula, or a pathway between the colon and urinary bladder formed due to the spread of the tumor.
  7. Anemia: It may be severe, and unyielding to iron supplements and other forms of treatment. At times pallor, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and difficulty in breathing on exertion, may be the only symptoms present. Cancers of the right side of the colon give rise to ulcers, causing chronic insidious blood loss without a change in the appearance of the stools. Since cancer may bleed intermittently, however, a random test for the presence of occult blood in stools, may be negative. As a result, the unexplained presence of iron deficiency anemia in any adult mandates a thorough check-up of the entire large bowel.
  8. Digestive upsets: Loss of appetite, indigestion, bloating, unexplained nausea and vomiting and weight loss are often present.
  9. Unexplained weight loss or fatigue
  10. Severe symptoms: Cancer cachexia, jaundice, and enlargement of the liver become apparent when the tumor is at an advanced stage.

Diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains has a protective effect against colon cancer


A preventive approach towards colon cancer

Several synthetic and naturally occurring materials have been assessed as possible inhibitors of colon cancer. These include the following:

  • Aspirin: The most effective class of chemopreventive agents are aspirin and other Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), that suppress the multiplication of cancer cells. This inhibitory effect appears to increase with the duration of aspirin use.
  • Diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains: Antioxidant vitamins such as ascorbic acid (vitamin-C), tocopherol (vitamin-E), and beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin-A) present in diets rich in fruits and vegetables have been associated with lower rates of colorectal cancers. Whole grains are loaded with healthy fiber that reduces colon cancer risk.
  • Alcohol consumption in moderation
  • Avoidance of smoking
  • Regular exercise: Physical workout sessions of at least 30 minutes duration every day, for six days every week, have a cancer protective effect.
  • Maintaining healthy body weight
  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy: Postmenopausal Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer in women. This protective effect is due to an alteration in bile acid composition by these synthetic hormones.
  • Calcium supplements: On regular intake, calcium supplements (that are commonly taken after menopause to prevent osteoporosis) prevent the growth of cancer cells in the colon.

Colon cancer screening


Colon Cancer Screening

As per the CDC recommendations, adults aged 50 to 75 years should undergo testing with one or a combination of the below-mentioned screening tests:

  • Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) or Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) performed at home using simple kits every year.
  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy that should be performed every 5 years, with Fecal Occult Blood and Fecal Immunochemical test every 3 years.
  • Colonoscopy repeated every 10 years, or as recommended by the attending physicians, gastro surgeons or gastroenterologists.

People at a higher risk may consider screening at age 45, or as recommended by the attending medical practitioner.

Disclaimer: This information is meant for educational purposes only. It does not intend to replace the advice of your doctor or qualified healthcare professional.


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    • DawnMSamora profile image

      DawnM Samora 

      3 years ago from Akron, Ohio

      Again Shraddhachawla, I am so glad you wrote on this subject. Colon cancer is getting way too popular. It seems as though we did not hear of it as much in earlier years.

      SayYes, I am so sorry your friend who passed, but I am glad that your friend agreed to get the testing done, and in time. My father also had polyps which means I am at risk also.Screenings are important for early detection, (just like any kind of cancer) and help doctors know what steps to take in treatment.

      I have been bad about doing so, but whenever any kind of cancer is hereditary, other members of the family (especially immediate) should always be screened for colon cancer.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 

      3 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      The boyfriend of a friend of mine died last October because of colon cancer. He was 54 years old, same age as me. He led a VERY unhealthy lifestyle; he smoked, drank, and lived on spam and rice. He didn't get his screening at age 50, and even continued to smoke and drink after heart surgery.

      I have another friend who got her first screening at age 60. She had severe problems with constipation, and was afraid to go. It was a harrowing experience, but they found precancerous polyps and were able to catch them in time.


      P.S. I had mine at 50, and it was a breeze. I slept through it.

    • Theresa Jonathan profile image

      Theresa Jonathan 

      3 years ago from Maseru, Lesotho

      This is a good subject! Colon cancer is a lifestyle disease which could be reduced significantly if we could be teachable on what not to eat. Food do have a strong hold on some people to an extend that they eat stuff that they know would endanger their lives. Could doctors please advise on what to do to overcome certain addictions like refined foods and sodas for an example!

    • DawnMSamora profile image

      DawnM Samora 

      3 years ago from Akron, Ohio

      shraddhachawla, thanks for writing this! This is so useful and helpful.

      My step mother's brother passed about 15 years ago from colon cancer. Now, all the siblings are checked every couple years.

      Great hub. -Dawn

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Very useful. I'm getting to the age where this sort of information becomes particularly pertinent. Thanks.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      This is an invaluable and extensive account of the symptoms and possible avoidance. We all need to heed such things. A healthy diet is good in preventing any serious disease of course.

      It's important to make people aware of such things. You never know, you may have saved at least one life through this article.


    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      My husband was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 48. He had started an exercise program and was having severe pains in his abdomen, as well as extreme weakness following a workout. He went to the doctor and a colonoscopy was ordered. A tumor was found about the size a a baseball sitting at the connection between the small and large intestines. The tumor was removed along with some of the footage of the large intestine, then they were reconnected. The doctor seemed to think that the tumor had been growing for quite some time. Our children were told that they needed to start screenings at age 40 as a precaution.

    • Jack Burden profile image

      Jack Burden 

      3 years ago from Columbus, OH

      Great information. Are there any associations between findings of non-malignant polyps during a colonoscopy and colon cancer?


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