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colon cancer

First Signs of Colon Cancer


Colon cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in Americans. It is estimated that 50% of people who develop colon cancer have no symptoms until it has reached an advanced stage. If you notice any changes in your bowel habits or if you experience rectal bleeding or blood in your stool, see your doctor right away to rule out colon cancer or other conditions that can cause these symptoms.

Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool

If you are over age 50, rectal bleeding or blood in your stool is not normal. Rectal bleeding may be a sign of colon cancer. If you have rectal bleeding, contact your doctor immediately.

In addition to rectal bleeding, other symptoms include:

  • Blood in stool (may be bright red)
  • Bowel movements that are black or tarry looking due to digested blood from the intestine
  • Severe abdominal pain

Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain

Abdominal pain is a common symptom of colon cancer. It may be experienced as a sharp and sudden pain, or it may be intermittent and dull. The location of the pain can be in the lower abdomen, back or rectum. The discomfort can come and go, but it doesn’t go away completely between episodes.

A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely

A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely is a sign of colon cancer. Other symptoms include constipation and diarrhea, as well as blood in the stool. You may also notice that you feel full for a long time after eating foods high in fiber.

If you have any of these signs, talk to your doctor right away so they can help determine if it is due to cancer or some other cause.

Weakness or fatigue

  • Weakness or fatigue can be a sign of colon cancer.
  • Other causes of weakness or fatigue include:
  • Heart disease
  • Anemia
  • Diabetes (type 2)
  • You may have cancer-related weakness or fatigue if you experience it suddenly, and it’s worse than usual for you. You may also feel tired when doing things you used to be able to do easily. These feelings can last a long time and keep coming back. If your weakness or fatigue is related to colon cancer, there are ways you can get treatment that will help with these symptoms.

Unexplained weight loss

Unexplained weight loss can be a sign of colon cancer. Other conditions that may cause weight loss include:

  • Anorexia nervosa and bulimia
  • Depression and other mental health problems, such as anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
  • Certain medications, including antidepressants, antipsychotics and drugs to treat heart disease or high blood pressure.

However, losing weight isn’t always a sign of colon cancer—you should check with your doctor if you have concerns about unexplained weight loss or changes in your bowel habits. You might also discuss the issue with your family or friends who could help keep a close eye on whether or not there’s a change in how much food you eat or how often you go to the bathroom.

Takeaway: Beware of colon cancer

If you are at risk for colon cancer, be aware of the symptoms. You should see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

  • A change in bowel habits that lasts more than two weeks
  • Abdominal pain or cramping lasting more than three days
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool


The best way to stave off colon cancer is by staying healthy and keeping your doctor up-to-date on any symptoms that may indicate a problem. If you are having bowel problems such as constipation or diarrhea, have blood in your stool or notice other symptoms, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider right away.

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