Colon Cancer symptoms manifest themselves in several ways and to understand these one should have an idea about the colon and its basic functions. The colon has an important function in the digestive system as it helps the body absorb the nutrients, mineral and water from the food which is ingested. It is a major part of the large intestine which is about six feet in length. The rectum and the anal canal make up the last six inches of the large intestine. The body gets rid of the waste in the form of stool with help from the colon.
A cancer which begins in the large intestine or the colon is known as colon cancer. When it starts at the end of the colon, in the rectum, it is known as colorectal cancer. There are different types of cancer which affect the colon such as:
• Carcinoid tumours
Most of the cases of cancer of the colon start in the glands which line the colon and rectum. They normally begin as benign polyps and then gradually develop malignancy.
Early stages of colon cancer symptoms
Those suffering from colon cancer in the early stages, show no major symptoms. As the cancer advances there are generally two types of colon cancer symptoms.
• Local: this affects the colon and the bowel movements.
• Systemic: these symptoms of colon cancer affect the entire body.
The local colon cancer symptoms are manifested with a change in bowel habits, such as:
• Constipation, which is a condition in which a person has to strain to pass stool. This is a common symptom for other less serious conditions as well but if it is chronic it could be due to a tumour which is obstructing the passage of stool in the colon.
• Diarrhea, which is a condition in which a person has loose or watery stools. This is also a common symptom of other stomach ailments but can also be a colon cancer symptom.
• Thin or ribbon like stools may also occur due to an obstruction in the colon, like a tumour or a polyp.
• Blood in the stool is a common colon cancer symptom. It may not be visible to the naked eye but may show up in a “fecal occult blood test”.
• Discomfort in the abdomen like bloating, gas pains or cramps if occurring frequently may be a symptom of colon cancer. These may occur due to an obstruction in the colon.
In case these symptoms do not go away after three or four weeks it could be a cause for concern and investigative tests should be conducted.
The systematic symptoms of colon cancer which affect the whole body are as follows:
• Unintentional weight loss
• A loss of appetite
• Extreme fatigue
• Vomiting and nausea
Unfortunately all these symptoms could be due to other milder ailments and may not cause concern till the cancer is well advanced. The doctor may suggest tests of the blood, a colonoscopy, barium enema tests, CT scans or even a virtual colonoscopy.
People who are in the high risk group should be vigilant and at the slightest signs of colon cancer symptoms, they should inform the doctor and undergo investigations and treatment to avoid colon cancer surgery in the future.