Most cases of colorectal cancer develop from noncancerous (benign) polyps, which over time, can develop into cancer. During the early stages of the disease, symptoms may be minor or even non-existent, which is why doctors recommend regular colorectal cancer screening tests after the age of 45 for most people. Once polyps turn into cancer and begin to spread, they often produce some noticeable symptoms that are important to be aware of.
Some signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer can include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Persistent abdominal pain
- Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool which usually makes it dark in color or can appear bright red.
- Weakness or fatigue
- Feeling you cannot empty your bowels (called tenesmus)
Although these symptoms can sometimes be caused by something other than colorectal cancer, such as hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or an infection, they shouldn’t be ignored. If any of these problems arise, it is a good idea to see your doctor. Earlier detection can make colorectal cancer easier to treat.
Colorectal Cancer Screening Recommendations
In hopes of preventing cancer of the colon and/or rectum, or catching it at an early stage, the American Cancer Society recommends regular colon screening for most people starting at age 45. However, if you have a family history of the disease or have other risk factors that could increase your chances of getting colorectal cancer, your doctor may recommend screening at a younger age.
There are other screening tests available that can help detect colorectal cancer early, including one you can do from home. However, you should talk with your doctor to find out which screening test(s) would be right for you.