If you didn’t include skin cancers, colorectal cancers are the third most prevalent cancer in the United States. In 2016 alone almost 140,000 people are diagnosed with either colon or rectal cancer. Although cases of colorectal cancer are common, many people wait until it’s too late to get diagnosed. This is because symptoms of colorectal cancer are very subtle and easily overlooked.
This is why I am going to tell you about the most commonly overlooked symptoms of colorectal cancer and what you can do to reduce your risk of developing it.
Most Commonly Overlooked Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
Abdominal cramps are one of the most overlooked symptoms of colorectal cancer mainly because they are a symptom of so many other, non-cancerous conditions. This doesn’t mean that you should freak out if you are feeling stomach pain.
However, if you are experiencing intense and long-lasting stomach cramps that don’t seem to be going away along with other symptoms of colorectal cancer, you should not dismiss it as it can be a major indicator.
This is another symptom that is commonly dismissed as something less serious than it may be. Many people feel fatigue without even having a condition, as not getting enough sleep is common in modern society.
Cancer cells can cause fatigue as they use up the body’s energy. Colon cancer can also cause fatigue as it can cause blood loss.
Sudden Weight Loss
An immediate and dramatic decrease in weight can be caused by a variety of cancers, one of them being colon cancer. “Unexplained weight loss” is generally described as an unintentional loss of 5% of your body weight within six months.
So, for someone who weighs 150 pounds, unintentionally losing 7 and 1/2 pounds within six months would generally be described as “unexplained weight loss”.
This is due to the fact that cancer cells use up a lot of the body’s energy, and the immune system also works hard to prevent the disease from spreading. All of this energy expenditure causes a large amount of weight loss.
With colon cancer, it is also possible that a large tumor can block the colon, which can affect one’s bowel movements and cause severe weight loss.
Irregular Bowel Movements
As a society in general, people do not pay enough attention to their bowel movements. The timing, consistency, and appearance of these movements can indicate various problems with your health, including the presence of colorectal cancer.
Colon polyps, which are small bunches of cells that can become cancerous over time, begin to affect bowel movements when they turn into tumors. These tumors can affect the way your large intestine functions, and this will be reflected in the changes found in your stool.
Loose, watery stools, diarrhea or constipation can all be indicative of colorectal cancer, as long as they are not being caused by any other conditions.
Again, this brings me back to my point about people not paying enough attention to their bowel movements. Although many people would be alarmed by the sight of blood in their stool, some may be too embarrassed or uncomfortable to bring it up with friends, family or their doctor.
Sometimes the blood in the stool may even be too dark to see unless examined thoroughly.
Bloody stool and bleeding from the rectum is a common symptom of both colon and rectal cancer. If you notice bright, red blood on the toilet paper after wiping, or reddish/pink water in the toilet then it may be a sign of rectal bleeding.
Lowering Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer
There are many different measures you can take and lifestyle changes you can make that will lower your chance of developing colorectal cancer. Here are some of them:
Eat your fruits, veggies, and grains. Diets rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have been linked to a decreased risk of colon cancer, while diets high in red and processed meat have been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer.
Exercise regularly. Being physically inactive has been linked to an increased risk of developing colon while increasing activity reduces your risk.
Don’t smoke. Smoking has been associated with an increased risk of developing a variety of cancers, one of them being the colon.
Manage your weight. Being overweight/obese not only increases your risk of developing colon cancer, but it also increases your risk of dying from it. This is because being overweight weakens your body, making it less able to fight off cancers.
Limit alcohol. Heavy drinking has been linked to the development of colon cancer. The American Cancer Society suggests limited alcohol intake to two drinks per day.