Most cases of colon cancer begin as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps, which over time, can develop into cancer. Typically, polyps may be small and produce few, if any, symptoms, which is why doctors recommend regular colorectal cancer screening tests. Once polyps turn into cancer and begin to spread, however, they may produce some noticeable symptoms.
Some signs and symptoms of colon cancer can include:
- Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- Stool that is dark in color
- Abdominal discomfort, such as bloating, gas, or cramps
- Weakness or fatigue
- Feeling you cannot empty your bowels
- Unexplained weight loss
Sometimes, these symptoms can be caused by something other than colon cancer, such as infection, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Still, it is wise to see your doctor if you have any of these problems. Early detection through proper screening can make colon cancer easier to treat.
In hopes of preventing colon cancer, or catching colon cancer at an early stage, the American Cancer Society recommends regular colon screening for most people starting at age 50. Your doctor may recommend screening at a younger age, however, if you have a family history of the disease or have other risk factors that could increase your chances of getting colon cancer.
Several different tests can be used to screen for colon cancer. Talk with your doctor to find out which screening test(s) would benefit you the most.