Symptoms & Facts

What is Colon Cancer?

Colon cancer is the cancer of the large intestine (colon). Rectal cancer is cancer located at the last inches of the colon. Collectively, colon and rectal cancer are called colorectal cancer. Colon cancer is known to develop gradually. It starts out as a polyp – a small group of cells forming on the stomach lining. A person may have multiple benign polyps, but it only takes one malignant polyp to cause colon cancer. Noticeable symptoms usually aren’t apparent in early stages. Without proper screening and preventive measures, many people don’t notice symptoms until it is too late or the cancer has become more harmful. The “red flag” sign of colon cancer is blood in the stool, which can be detected early with screening.

Colon Cancer Stages

Stage I. The cancer has grown through the mucous membrane of the colon or rectum, however it is still enclosed within the wall of the colon or rectum.

Stage II. The cancer has grown into or through the colon wall or rectum but hasn’t invaded nearby lymph nodes.

Stage III. The cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes but not to distant parts.

Stage IV. The cancer has metastasized to further parts of the body (e.g. organs).

Common Colorectal Cancer Symptoms

  1. Changes in your bowel habits ( such as bowel movements that are either more or less frequent than normal)
  2. Constipation (difficulty having a bowel movement or straining to have a bowel movement
  3. Diarrhea (loose or watery stools)
  4. Intermittent (alternating) constipation and diarrhea
  5. Unintentional weight loss (losing weight when not dieting or trying to lose weight)
  6. Feeling that bowel does not empty completely
  7. Bright red or dark red blood in your stools
  8. Stools that are thinner than normal (“pencil stools”)
  9. Anemia (low red blood cell count or low iron in your red blood cells)
  10. Unexplained fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  11. Abdominal discomfort – gas, bloating, fullness, and/or cramps
  12. Nausea and/or vomiting

NOTE: Colon cancer symptoms aren’t always obvious, but you can learn what these symptoms look and feel like. Understanding colon cancer symptoms is important, because you can use this knowledge to work with your doctor to find out the cause and to take care of your long-term health.