Tragically, colorectal cancer (often referred to as ‘colon cancer’) is the third most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the US, even though treatments can be very successful when found early. When colon cancer is found early, before it spreads, the survival rate is very high. If the cancer is detected later and has a chance to spread outside the colon or rectum, survival rates are lower.
That’s why it’s so important to schedule regular colonoscopies if you’re 45 or older or have a history of colon cancer in your family, and to see a doctor promptly if you have any warning signs.
Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, the following can be signs of colorectal cancer. Just because you have some of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have cancer; other possible causes include infection, hemorrhoids, inflammatory bowel disease, or irritable bowel syndrome. Nevertheless, any of these symptoms warrant a doctor’s visit to discover the cause and obtain treatment if necessary.
Signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
- Rectal bleeding
- Dark stools, or blood in the stool
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
If you experience any of these symptoms, time is of the essence. Call your family doctor or Muskegon Surgical Associates at (231) 739-9461 for an appointment right away.
If You are Diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer
Your doctor may recommend more tests and, if colorectal cancer is suspected, colonoscopy will be performed to biopsy any abnormal areas. (In a biopsy, the doctor uses a special instrument to remove small pieces of tissue, which are then examined under a microscope).
Treatment for colorectal cancer depends on the type of cancer and how early it was found. Treatments include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapies, and immunotherapy.
What is a Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a screening procedure where a flexible camera is used to inspect the colon.
The Importance of Regular Colorectal Cancer Screenings
Typically, symptoms of colon cancer don’t present themselves until the cancer is advanced (and more difficult to treat). The American Cancer Society recently lowered the recommended age from 50 to 45 to address the rise in younger people being diagnosed more frequently. That’s why it’s so important to schedule a screening when you turn 45, and at regular intervals (suggested by your doctor) after that. If you have a family history of colon cancer or other risk factors, your doctor may suggest you begin regular screenings earlier. Screening can detect cancer when it’s easier to treat, and even prevent some colon cancers from forming by finding and removing pre-cancerous polyps.
American Cancer Society