Each year, thousands of Americans are diagnosed with either colon cancer or rectal cancer, which are collectively known as “colorectal cancer.” Because these cancers are most effectively treated in early stages, it’s important to know the signs of colorectal cancer.
You might think of colorectal cancer as something that affects only older adults. But in reality, cases among older adults have been decreasing in recent years, while cases have increased among younger adults.
Because screenings are not recommended for most adults until age 45, it’s important to know the signs of colorectal cancer and to seek medical attention when you’re experiencing them.
Understanding Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that develops in either the colon or the rectum, parts of the digestive system. Most cases of this type of cancer begin as polyps, which are small, noncancerous growths. Over time, those polyps may develop into cancer.
The good news is that if a polyp develops into cancer, it typically does so slowly. That means that polyps can often be detected and removed before they become cancerous.
That fact makes colorectal cancer one of the most preventable types of cancer—precancerous polyps can be removed during a specific screening known as a colonoscopy.
Colorectal cancer screenings are recommended for most adults beginning at age 45. This is a change from a previous recommendation, which called for screenings to begin at age 50.
If you have risk factors for colorectal cancer, such as a family history of the condition, your medical provider can help you decide on a screening regimen, which may include beginning screenings earlier or having them more frequently.
Know the Signs of Colorectal Cancer
Even if you’re younger than age 45, it’s important to watch for potential signs of colorectal cancer. That’s because this type of cancer is increasingly being diagnosed in younger adults, for whom routine screenings aren’t recommended.
While colorectal cancer becomes more common as we get older, it’s important for people of all ages to keep an eye out for these symptoms:
- Bloody stools, either bright red in color or dark
- Frequent cramping or gas-related pain
- Incomplete bowel movements
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation
- Persistent feelings of fullness or bloating
- Stool that’s a different size, shape or color than your norm
- Unexplainable weight loss
If you experience any of these symptoms, particularly if they persist for any length of time, it’s important to talk with your medical provider. He or she can help you determine the next steps, including diagnostic testing, such as a colonoscopy, to confirm the underlying cause of those symptoms.