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What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?

Symptoms vary depending on the location of the cancer within the colon or rectum, though there may be no symptoms at all. The most common presenting symptom is rectal bleeding. Cancers arising from the left side of the colon generally cause bleeding, and in their late stages may cause constipation, abdominal pain and obstructive symptoms. On the other hand, right-sided colon cancer may produce vague abdominal aching or weakness, weight loss and anemia from chronic blood loss.

Other Symptoms:

  • Bright red blood in the stool.
  • Diarrhea that is not the result of cold or flu.
  • Constipation for an unusually long period.
  • Cramps and pain in the abdominal region.
  • Persistent decrease in size or caliber of stool.
  • Frequent feeling of bloating in the abdominal or bowel region.
  • Weight loss.
  • Unusual and continuing lack of energy.

Who should be screened? How often?

Screenings can detect colorectal cancer when it can be treated. For individuals at normal risk, screening tests should begin at age 50. The preferred approach is a screening colonoscopy conducted every 10 years. In addition, consider the following recommendations for screening:

  • Colorectal cancer screening in African Americans begins at age 45.
  • Colonoscopic surveillance needs to be performed at more frequent intervals for individuals at high risk for colon cancer - those with a personal history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps, family history of colorectal cancer (CRC), hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or irritable bowel disease (IBD).
  • An alternate strategy consists of annual stool test for blood and a flexible sigmoidoscopic exam every three to five years.

Risk Factors:

  • Cancer of female organs.
  • Ulcerative colitis.
  • Physical inactivity.
  • High-fat diet.
  • Low-fiber diet.
  • Too few fruits and vegetables in your diet.

Melissa M. Murphy, MD, MPH | Colon & Rectal Surgeon    Colorectal Screening - When & Why