Colorectal cancer, often called colon cancer, is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Symptoms can range from subtle changes in bowel habits to more concerning signs such as blood in the stool. While many people associate colon cancer with the golden years, young adults and even adolescents can be at risk for this type of cancer. In fact, colon cancer rates have nearly doubled for people under 55 since 1995.
It is important to recognize any unusual symptoms or changes that could be a sign of colorectal cancer. Here are four symptoms that warrant an immediate visit to your doctor for further testing, including a colon cancer screening:
1) Changes in bowel habits
Developing diarrhea after indulging at the buffet or eating foods you're sensitive to may be normal for some people, but long-term bowel changes may be a sign of colorectal cancer. This can include bouts of constipation or diarrhea that seem to persist longer than normal, as well as changes in the consistency and shape of the stool.
2) Unexplained rectal bleeding
Visible bright red blood in the stool or on toilet paper is a concerning symptom and should be evaluated by your doctor right away. Small amounts of blood may indicate hemorrhoids but could also be a sign of colorectal cancer. You should also speak with your doctor if you notice black stools, as this could also be a sign of internal bleeding.
3) Abdominal pain
Persistent abdominal pain, bloating, or cramping that doesn't seem to go away can be a red flag for colorectal cancer. While abdominal pain can have several causes, it can be helpful to speak with your doctor if the discomfort persists for more than a few days. Your doctor can perform a colon cancer screening and also order imaging tests, such as a CT scan of your abdomen, to help rule out other causes.
4) Unexplained weight loss
Losing a few pounds after switching to a healthier diet or exercising more often can be normal. However, unexplained weight loss may be caused by colorectal cancer. Many people don't realize that cancer can cause changes in appetite and may lead to unintentional weight loss without any other symptoms present. Talk to your doctor if you can't explain your recent weight loss, as it may warrant a colorectal cancer screening or other tests.
Not every symptom of colorectal cancer is listed here, and other medical conditions can cause many of these same symptoms. Contact your doctor for more information about colon cancer.