Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Patients who come to the Siteman Cancer Center for treatment of colorectal cancer are seen by a team of Washington University Physicians— surgical, medical and radiation oncologists — often during the same visit. A health psychologist is also available as needed. Experienced nurses then spend time with you, answering your questions and putting you in touch with resources that may help during this stressful time. These nurses offer patients printed information on colorectal disease, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other related issues.
Surgery is the mainstay of therapy for colon and rectal cancer and is often the only treatment that is needed. In other cases, the best results are obtained with a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
Washington University colon and rectal surgeons at the Siteman Cancer Center treat about 350 new cancer patients a year, and are internationally recognized for their expertise. They have pioneered “sphincter-sparing” surgical techniques that allow most patients with rectal cancer to be treated successfully without a colostomy, a procedure that creates an opening in the abdomen for the drainage of stool.
Our surgeons also are leaders in developing minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery techniques to treat colon and rectal cancer without making a large incision. Radiation therapy may be used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Chemotherapy uses drugs given by mouth or intravenously to kill cancer cells.
Common Colon Cancer Signs and Symptoms
- Blood (either bright red or very dark) in bowel movements.
- Changes in bowel habits, such as frequent diarrhea or constipation.
- Frequent gas pains, swelling or cramps.
- Stools that are narrower than usual.
- Losing weight without trying.
- Feeling very tired.
Additional indications for a colonoscopy include unexplained rectal bleeding, as a follow-up to a positive test showing blood in the stool, iron-deficiency anemia, new onset of constipation or diarrhea, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, and to monitor or diagnose inflammatory bowel disease.
Colon Cancer Screening Tests and Intervals
There are several different colorectal cancer screening tests, including colonoscopy, that are used for detecting colon cancer. They should be done at the recommended intervals. It’s important to note that 75 percent of patients with colon cancer have no symptoms, and 75 percent of patients with colorectal cancer have no family history. This means starting colon cancer screening at age 50 is very important (some guidelines recommend starting at age 45).