The symptoms of colon cancer are not always easy to link to the disease, but some knowledge about them can help patients identify which symptoms should be brought to the attention of cancer specialists. Since the colon is part of the digestive system, when a cancer hits it, the earliest symptoms will affect a person’s digestive process. Unfortunately, since stomach upsets can be common and may not alert a person of an underlying disease, colon cancer is not easy to identify. This is why many cancer specialists recommend that people should get regular screening especially once they hit the age of 50 when the risk for colon cancer significantly increases.
Local Symptoms of Colon Cancer
When the symptoms start manifesting, they often come from either of two varieties: local and systemic. Local symptoms are those that affect the colon itself, which means they also affect the patient’s bathroom habits. These include abnormal changes in bowel movement, constipation, diarrhea, or both in an intermittent/alternating schedule, and bloody or black stools. Some patients also experience ‘pencil stools’ or stools that are very thin and does not seem to completely empty the body of waste. These may also be accompanied by abdominal discomfort, bloating, gas pains, and cramps. If a patient experiences these symptoms and they do not go away for one week, two weeks, or longer, he should approach a hospital and arrange for tests.
Systemic Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Systemic symptoms, on the other hand, are those that affect not just the digestive system but the entire body. These include rapid weight loss without any effort to reduce weight, loss of appetite, unexplained fatigue, anemia, jaundice, nausea, and vomiting. If these manifest in a patient, even for just a few days, he should call a doctor immediately for testing.
Diagnosing Cancer of the Colon
If any of these symptoms are linked to colon cancer, the patient should seek help from a cancer specialist. To determine whether the symptoms are really caused by an underlying cancer, the patient has to undergo some tests and will also be asked some questions, such as regarding their medical history.
If the doctor links the symptoms specifically to colon cancer, the patient will need to cleanse the colon first to ensure an accurate screening. This can be done with the use of medications.
When a patient is ready, some of the tests that doctors will use to check for colon cancer include flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, double contrast barium enema, fecal occult blood test, CT colonography or virtual colonoscopy, fecal immunochemical test, and stool DNA tests. A patient does not have to go through all these if it is not necessary. A cancer specialist can also acquaint a person with each of these procedures prior to testing to inform the patient about what he should expect during the test. This way, the patient can also decide whether to go ahead with the test or to look at other options in order to properly diagnose the symptoms of colon cancer.