Bowel cancer also known as colon or rectal cancer is a generic term for cancer which originates in the large intestine of the body. The symptoms of bowel cancer are typically subtle in nature and may not necessarily make you feel ill; they can be a little confusing. Stomach related problems or a change in bowel habits are common events or occurrences and may not always mean that you are having a serious condition like Bowel cancer. However, you should closely monitor these changes and not simply ignore them. Learn about the various symptoms of bowel cancer so that you know when it is the right time to pay a visit to your doctor. Here are the three main signs of bowel cancer:
- Stomach Discomfort & Rectum Bleeding
Stomach discomfort is a common occurrence, just like constipation or diarrhea, and can be caused by a lot of factors such as poor diet, stress, food intolerance, etc. It can, however, become a point of concern if the discomfort doesn’t go away or when cramping gets worse. Additionally, if you get the constant urge to have a bowel movement and yet are not relieved by having one, contact your doctor.
Rectum bleeding is disturbing and can be quite discomforting too. It is one of the main symptoms of bowel cancer. If you witness bleeding from the rectum or find blood in the toilet, it is a matter of concern. However, there can be conditions like fissures or hemorrhoids which may cause a small amount of bleeding, so, if you notice any blood – it is best to contact your doctor tell them about any other symptoms that you might have experienced in the last couple of days or weeks. If you notice a large amount of blood, you should rush to the emergency room at once. Any form of bleeding from the rectum is not healthy.
- Unexplained Fatigue, Weight Loss, Anemia
For people who have the condition of a chronic rectal bleeding, the loss of blood often causes iron deficiency or anemia; making the individual develop pale skin and feel tired all the time. If your energy level drops unexpectedly, or if you begin to lose weight for no known reason, it is time to contact your doctor for a diagnosis. Anemia is also a sign of internal bleeding, ask your doctor to investigate the possible causes. Keep in mind, these conditions or symptoms can also be caused by problems other than bowel cancer. Many people have reported feeling the fear of getting diagnosed with cancer, and hence they tried to avoid seeing their doctor, even after are experiencing these symptoms. Even if your doctor suspects it to be cancer, the earlier it is detected the better off you will be. Almost 90% of cases are treatable and survivable if diagnosed in the early stages.
- Change in Bowel Habits & Appearance of Stool
If you notice any changes to your bowel habits, take note of them and attribute them to any lifestyle changes that may have occurred at the same time. This information will help your doctor in ascertaining the probable causes. However, like previously mentioned, if you witness such a condition, don’t jump the gun by concluding that you may have cancer, it could be caused by other common problems like diarrhea or constipation.
Loose motions and diarrhea are common. It can be caused by eating unhealthy food, intolerance to certain food items, medication, stress, or bacteria, etc. Most individuals will get a mild case of diarrhea several times per year at least. Typically, the condition will resolve on its own within a couple of days. Get examined if your diarrhea lasts more than three days. Constipation is another common gastrointestinal condition. Having constipation will not mean that you have bowel cancer. Changes in diet, unhealthy nutritional habits, stress, and dehydration can often cause constipation. It is generally recommend by doctors that if your constipation persists for two weeks or more, you should visit your doctor for a checkup.
The appearance of your stool is another good indicator of what might be going on inside the body. If you ever notice any changes in the appearance of your stool, it may be a sign of some concern. If your stool becomes thinner, narrower or turns into a ribbon-like shape; if you notice any blood in your stool, or if your stool is darkened, it could also be an indication of changes inside your bowel and you should contact your doctor immediately.
As with every disease, there are a few factors that can increase your risk or exposure to bowel cancer. Some of these factors can be avoidable while some can also be unavoidable.
- Unavoidable factors
On the top of the list of such factors that are unavoidable and can’t be changed is age. Your probability of developing bowel cancer increases once you cross the age of 50 years. Other factors include prior history of colon polyps; prior history of bowel disease; family history of bowel cancer; and genetic syndromes.
- Avoidable factors
While the above mentioned risk factors are unavoidable, here’s a list of factors that are avoidable, meaning that if you are exposed to them, you can make amends and decrease your risk of developing bowel cancer. Avoidable factors include obesity, smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol, Type 2 diabetes, having a diet which is high on processed foods or red meats.
It is also important to know that there may a chance that you don’t really experience any of symptoms at all but still get the disease. Many people who have been diagnosed with bowel cancer have reported experiencing no visible signs or symptoms prior to their diagnosis. If you are over 50 years of age, or if you have a family history of the disease, it is advisable to not really wait for any visible symptoms to occur before considering going for a screening.