Colorectal cancers are the third most prevalent cancer in the United States, not considering skin cancer. They’re also one of the most deadly.
According to the American Cancer Association “Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States when men and women are considered separately, and the second leading cause when both sexes are combined.”
These scary statistics are mainly due to the fact that colon and rectal cancer both have subtle and often overlooked symptoms. This means that by the time you know you have it, the cancer is so advanced that it’s hard to treat.
Most Commonly Overlooked Signs Of Colorectal Cancer
Perhaps one of the most difficult symptoms to diagnose, cramps are the first sign that something may be up. Unfortunately, it’s also a symptom of many other less serious conditions, like excess gas and poor digestion (2).
Like the odd cramp isn’t a cause for concern, chronic, intense, and long-lasting pain accompanied with any other symptom below should be reported to your general practitioner as soon as possible.
Again, this symptom isn’t straight forward, making it harder to pin to colorectal cancer. Fatigue can be caused by poor diet, lack of sleep, excess or lack of physical activity, and medication (3).
It may also be a sign of more serious conditions like anemia, acute liver failure, diabetes, heart disease, hypothyroidism, and much more. However, being constantly tired, even when you eat and sleep well and have a clean bill of health, may be a sign of colorectal cancer.
Cancer cells require plenty of energy, which means that there’s less to go around for healthy cells. Colon cancer can also cause bleeding, further starving your body of oxygen and nutrients.
3. Sudden Weight Loss
An immediate and dramatic decrease in weight can be caused by a variety of cancers, one of them being colon cancer. The Mayo Clinic describes unexplained weight loss as the unintentional loss of 5% of your body weight within six months (4).
For someone who weighs 150 pounds, losing 7 and 1/2 pounds within six months without changing diet, exercise or your sleeping pattern qualifies as “unexplained weight loss”.
Not only do cancer cells take plenty of energy, your immune system also uses energy to try to fight off the disease.
4. Irregular Bowel Movements
Since cancer can affect bowel structure, meaning that it can also influence the timing, consistency, and appearance of your stool.
Colon polyps can turn into tumor over time, which can make your stool either more diarrhea-like or leave you constipated. If your bowel movements have changed or if they excessively dark, it’s time to visit your doctor (5).
5. Bloody Stool
Every time you go to the washroom, you should take a quick look at your stool to get a better idea of your overall health.
Bloody or black stool can be scary or embarrassing, but it has to be mentioned to your doctor. While bloody stool indicated bleeding in your rectum or anus, black stool indicates bleeding higher up in your digestive tract (6).
Of all the signs on the list above, this is the one you absolutely can’t ignore.
How To Lower Your Risk Of Colon Cancer
If your family has a history of cancer, or if you suffer from an inflammatory condition of your bowels, here are a few things you need to start doing as soon as possible (7):
- Eat your fruits, veggies, and grains: these fiber-rich foods clear toxic waste from your intestines and promote healthy bowel movements to keep you regular and clear. Some of these foods also lower inflammation.
- Exercise regularly: exercise is essential to maintain a healthy weight, fight inflammation, and clear toxins. Plus, it also supports proper bowel function.
- Don’t smoke: smoking elevates your risk of every type of cancer, including cancers of the colon and rectum.
- Manage your weight: Obese and overweight people are more likely to develop colorectal cancer. Their risk of dying of the disease is also greater.
- Limit alcohol: excessive alcohol consumption is a risk factor for colorectal cancer.