What Are the Early Signs of Colon Cancer?

Last Editorial Review: 5/31/2018

Ask the experts

I'm only 35, so I'm not recommended for a colonoscopy yet. Still, I have two male family members who have died of colon cancer, and I know it may be hereditary. Because of this, I want to be vigilant. What are the early signs of colon cancer.

Doctor's response

Symptoms of colorectal cancer are numerous and nonspecific. They include fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, change in bowel habits, narrow stools, diarrhea or constipation, red or dark blood in stool, weight loss, abdominal pain, cramps, or bloating. Other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (spastic colon), ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, diverticulosis, and peptic ulcer disease can have symptoms that mimic colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer can be present for several years before symptoms develop. Symptoms vary according to where in the large intestine the tumor is located. The right colon is wider and more flexible. It can even be called relatively spacious as compared to the rest of the colon. Cancers of the right colon can grow to large sizes before they cause any abdominal symptoms. Typically, right-sided cancers cause iron deficiency anemia due to the slow loss of blood over a long period of time. Iron deficiency anemia causes fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath. The left colon is narrower than the right colon. Therefore, cancers of the left colon are more likely to cause partial or complete bowel obstruction. Cancers causing partial bowel obstruction can cause symptoms of constipation, narrowed stool, diarrhea, abdominal pains, cramps, and bloating. Bright red blood in the stool may also indicate a growth near the end of the left colon or rectum.


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United States. National Cancer Institute. "Colorectal cancer." <https://www.cancer.gov/types/colorectal>.