Colorectal cancer: Signs and symptoms that should not be ignored

colorectal cancer, colon cancer, polyps, hematochezia, diabetes, obesity, smoking, sedentary lifestyle,

By Dr Niranjan Naik

Colon cancer: Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide. Overall, colon cancer is the third most common cause of cancer related mortality. Though worldwide colorectal cancer incidence is decreasing but incidence rate of colon cancer is increasing in young adults. Many people with colon cancer may not have symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Symptoms appear, depending on the cancer’s size and location in the large intestine. As the lumen of the colon is significantly wide, it may take long to cause obstructive symptoms.

Colon Cancer: Symptoms in the body

Colon cancer begins in the large intestine (colon) which is the final part of the digestive tract. Colon cancer normally affects older adults, although it can happen at any age. It usually begins as small, noncancerous (benign) polyps which forms on the inside of the colon, which over time can progress to colon cancer. Polyps may be small which may produce few symptoms or no symptoms. This is why doctors recommend regular screening tests to help prevent colon cancer by identifying and removing polyps before they turn into cancer.

Colon Cancer: Danger signs

Most of the time colon cancer is diagnosed in an advanced stage due to ignorance of patients or misinterpretation of signs and symptoms by general practitioners. If any person has any of the following symptoms, these can be a danger sign of colon cancer.

  • A recent, persistent change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stools
  • Blood in the stools (hematochezia)
  • Passage of Black colored stools(malena)
  • Continuous discomfort in abdomen, such as cramps, gas or pain
  • A feeling incomplete evacuation after passing stools
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Distension of abdomen due to intestinal obstruction

If you notice any persistent symptoms, then you should take advice of some qualified cancer specialist.

Like any other cancer, colon cancer begins when healthy cells in the colon develop changes or mutations in their DNA. Healthy cells grow and divide in an orderly way to keep your body functioning normally but can become cancerous when their DNA is damaged, and they can continue to divide even when new cells aren’t needed. As the cells accumulate, they form a tumor.

Colon Cancer: Risk factors include family history

There are few known risk factors like older age (Over 50), African American race, a personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps. Inflammatory bowel disease, Inherited syndromes that increase colon cancer risk family history of colon cancer.

Other risk factors are a Low-fibre diet, high-fat diet, A sedentary lifestyle, Diabetes, Obesity, Smoking, Alcohol and Radiation therapy for cancer.

It is recommended that people with an average risk of colon cancer consider colon cancer screening at around age 50. But in the case of those who have an increased risk like those with a family history of colon cancer, should consider getting their screening sooner.

There are several screening options, each has its own benefits and drawbacks. Discuss with your doctor to learn about options for screening.

Colon Cancer: Embrace healthy lifestyle practices

Following few healthy lifestyle practices can decrease future risk of colon cancer like:

  • Eat different types of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • if you drink alcohol, take in moderation, stop smoking.
  • Regular exercise minimum 30 min a day and try to maintain a healthy weight.

Taking these precautions will decrease future risk of colon cancer significantly.

(The columnist is Director, Surgical Oncology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram. Views expressed are the author's own.)