Unusual Signs of COLON CANCER People Ignore for Years

A. Pavlovsky
One of the most dangerous cancers sends out loud warning signals to let you know something is wrong.

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. You might think it’s a disease of the elderly, but more adults in their 20s and 30s are being diagnosed, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Actor Chadwick Boseman was 43 when he died of colon cancer in 2020. Diagnosed in 2016, he worked through “countless surgeries and chemotherapy,” his family said.

Katie Couric’s husband Jay Monahan was just 42 when he died of colon cancer in 1998.

TODAY’s Craig Melvin’s older brother, Lawrence Meadows, died at age 43 in December 2020, four years after being diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. Doctors removed a baseball-sized tumor from his stomach in October 2016 and discovered the cancer had already spread.

Doctors say patients are uncomfortable talking about their symptoms.

“Sometimes people are uncomfortable talking about this part of their body,” says Dr. Jennifer Inra, a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“There’s public awareness, but not enough people are getting screened … people sometimes get nervous about screening.”

Colorectal cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in the United States and the third leading cause of cancer death among American men and women, according to the CDC.

Although screening has helped reduce the overall number of cases, the obesity epidemic may be fueling an increase in the incidence among young adults.

Here are six signs you should never ignore.

  1. Bleeding
    The most common warning sign is rectal bleeding, says Dr. Alfred Neugut, a medical oncologist and cancer epidemiologist at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. If you notice blood on the toilet paper, toilet bowl, or stool, see your doctor. The blood can be bright red or dark brown.

This will generally be more bleeding than hemorrhoids or bleeding from a cut in the area, Inra added.

“Many people don’t look at their stools, so it’s important to look. It’s important to see what’s going on,” he said.

If you notice blood, don’t ignore it.

“Rectal bleeding is something that, believe it or not, people can ignore for a very long time,” Neugut said. “It can be intermittent, so you might get it one day, then it’s gone for a few weeks, and then you’ll get it again. In the meantime, you’ll think you’re fine.” But you might not.

  1. Iron deficiency anemia
    When colon cancer bleeds, your body loses iron. People may not know they’re bleeding, but routine blood tests can detect anemia, or the lack of enough healthy red blood cells, Inra said.
  1. Abdominal pain
    Tumors can cause blockages, tears, and cramping and other pain. Abdominal discomfort can be dull or sharp, depending on what’s going on.

“A sharp, very tender abdomen is a sign of perforation to us,” notes Inra.

Pain can be a signal that something cannot pass through. Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal distension may also occur.

  1. Thin stools
    Doctors consider it a change in the size of the stool. If your stool is thinner than it used to be, it could be a sign of colon cancer, says Inra. Watch for other changes in bowel habits, such as constipation.
  2. Ineffectual desire for bowel movements
    Tenesmus is the feeling that you need to empty your bowels, but when you try, no stool will come out. This can be caused by a tumor in your rectum, notes Inra.
  3. Unreasonable weight loss
  4. This is a reason to consider colon cancer or any cancer in general. You may feel like you’re eating enough, but the disease can change the way your body uses food, preventing it from absorbing all the nutrients, notes the National Cancer Institute.

When should you start getting checked?
The American Cancer Society recommends that you get screened when you’re at an average risk of colon cancer at age 45. before, if you have a family history or other risk factors.

In 2021, the US Preventive Services Task Force’s new guidelines also recommended starting at age 45, meaning that screenings for people between the ages of 45 and 50 were more likely to be covered by insurance companies.

Screening has had a huge impact on reducing the number of colon cancer cases, Neugut said.

There are different methods, so talk to your primary care doctor or gastroenterologist about which one is right for you.

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