Colon cancer can sound frightening, but there are good reasons to learn about this disease.
Understanding colon cancer symptoms can help you recognize them earlier on and get treatment faster. If you catch the signs of colon cancer very early, the disease may be more curable.
Learn more about the early warning signs of colon cancer to look out for.
How colon cancer starts
Your colon is also known as your large intestine. Cancer in the colon often begins as polyp. This is a small clump of cells that grows within the colon’s lining. It’s common for polyps to remain harmless. But some polyps grow and cause blockages.
Other polyps may mutate, meaning they can turn into cancer. It can take up to 10 years for a polyp to turn into cancer. That’s why screening for colon cancer is important for people of all ages.
A screening is a type of medical test you have even when you don’t have any symptoms of a condition. It can help detect a condition earlier, when treatment is more likely to be successful.
Signs of colon cancer
Many people have no symptoms of colon cancer until the disease has been present for a long time. But some early signs of colon cancer resemble other common non-cancerous conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or even hemorrhoids.
Early signs include:
- Excessive gas
- Very skinny stool
- Increased mucus in stool
- Feelings of fatigue and weakness
- Weight loss for no reason
- Black or bloody stool
- Feeling that your bowels are full even after you go
- New bowel problems that won’t go away (like diarrhea or constipation)
How to screen for colon cancer
If your doctor thinks you might have colon cancer, they may recommend a few tests. These can include:
- A colonoscopy, which involves looking inside your colon with a tiny camera (early stage)
- A stool test to look for traces of hidden blood (early stage)
- Blood tests to check liver function related to cancer (early stage)
- Scans and imaging tests to see if cancer has spread to other areas of your body (later stages)
The colonoscopy is one of the best ways to detect colon cancer.
During a colonoscopy, a doctor inserts a long, flexible tube with a tiny camera into your colon. That way, the doctor can spot problems and remove polyps before they have a chance to develop into cancer. The clinic or hospital lab tests the polyps to see if they contain cancer cells. It determines the stage of the colon cancer — if there is any.
Stages of colon cancer
Colon cancer, like other cancers, has four stages.
- Stage 0: This is the precancerous stage. Polyps found in your colon or rectum during a colonoscopy have not spread from where they were found. Some stage 0 polyps could be precancerous. This means they’re more likely to turn into cancer later.
- Stage 1: Cancer cells have grown through the lining of your colon and possibly entered the muscle. However, in stage 1, the cancer remains in the colon. It has not spread to other areas of your body.
- Stage 2: This complex stage has three sub-stages depending on how far through the layers of the colon wall the cancer has grown or spread.
- Stage 3: This stage, also with three sub-stages, means cancer has likely spread to lymph nodes and nearby organs.
- Stage 4: This advanced stage means the cancer has spread throughout your body, possibly into your liver or lungs.
Learn more about the cancer care and oncology services we offer at Bon Secours.