Colorectal cancer is cancer forming in the colon and the rectum, which can cause minor or non-existent symptoms in its early stage; however, there can be some colorectal cancer early signs. Regular screening tests can help to diagnose cancer in the colon and rectum.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer is a prevalent term used to describe cancer that develops in the colon and the rectum, which is located in the lower part of the digestive tract. The colon is the longest and the first part of the large intestine. Colon cancer may affect older adults, but it may also occur at any age. Colon cancer usually begins as small masses of cells called polyps that form inside the colon. Although polyps aren’t harmful and don’t cause any symptoms, some of these can turn into colon cancers.
If colon cancer develops, there are many treatments that can help to control it. These treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and other medical treatments such as immunotherapy and targeted therapy.
Colorectal Cancer Signs & Symptoms
Colorectal cancer signs and symptoms don’t appear at the beginning of the cancer. When the Colorectal cancer symptoms appear, they are likely to depend on the size and location of the cancer.
Colorectal Cancer Early Signs
Most of the cancers developing in the colon or rectum develop from the polyps. At the early stage, there may not be any symptoms, but certain warning signs may be present. These signs may include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Narrow, ribbon-like stools
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Persistent abdominal pain
- Feeling like emptying the bowel, but nothing passes
These symptoms may also be caused by other less serious conditions such as haemorrhoids. However, any such signs should be checked by a healthcare provider.
Colorectal Cancer Local Symptoms
Local symptoms of colorectal cancer are present only in the colon and/or the rectum and have not yet spread to the other organs. Such local symptoms caused by colorectal cancer include the following:
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Abdominal bloating, cramps or discomfort
- Thinner than normal stools
- Having a feeling that the bowel has not emptied completely
There can be additional symptoms of cancer in the colorectal region, which may include:
- Unexplained loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness and fatigue
Colon Cancer Symptoms
While there may not be any symptoms at the earliest stage of colon cancer, as the cancer grows and spreads, symptoms such as fatigue and weight loss may appear. Thereafter, changes in bowel habits may indicate colon cancer, which may include:
- Changes in the frequency of bowel movements
- Changes in the consistency of stool
- Rectal bleeding
- Bright red or dark tar-like colour of stools
- A persistent feeling of not being able to empty the bowels completely
Rectal Cancer Symptoms
The symptoms may be similar to those of other bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or inflammatory bowel disease. However, the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease may subside after some time; in the case of rectal cancers, the symptoms may exacerbate further as the cancer develops. Tumours forming in the rectum may alter the frequency and consistency of bowel movements. As the cancer progresses and spreads throughout the rectum and possibly into the colon, the symptoms may worsen and become much more severe.
Some of the common signs associated with changes in bowel movements in the case of rectal cancer include:
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Blood with stools
- Change in the shape and consistency of stools
- Feeling or inability to empty the bowel completely
Symptoms of Metastatic Colorectal Cancer
When cancer from the colon and rectum starts spreading to the other parts and organs, symptoms may appear depending upon the size of the tumour as well as the location of the tumour. However, patients with metastatic colorectal cancer may not be aware of the symptoms before a diagnosis is made.
There can be systemic symptoms in the affected areas, such as:
- If the cancer has spread to the bones, the patient may experience pain, fractures, as well as high levels of calcium.
- If the lungs get affected, the patient may experience breathing difficulties, coughing, pain and/or fatigue.
- If cancer spreads to the liver, the patient may experience symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, swelling in the hands and feet, an increase in the size of the abdomen, and jaundice.
- If cancer affects the lymph nodes of the stomach, there may be symptoms of bloating, swelling of the abdomen, and loss of appetite.
- If the spinal cord and/or brain are affected by metastatic cancer, the patient may experience symptoms of pain, headache, mental confusion, memory loss, changes in vision, difficulty in speaking, as well as seizures.
Causes of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer develops when cancerous cells start to grow out of control in the colon or the rectum. Colorectal cancer most commonly begins in the mucous-making cells of the colon and the rectum, which undergo cellular changes to form tumours. What causes colorectal cancer is not clear, but it is mostly a result of changes in the DNA. Usually, the DNA in these cells undergo a mutation that makes them unable to control cellular growth and division.
In many cases, cancerous cells are identified and attacked by the immune system, but some escape and grow uncontrollably, forming tumours in the colon or rectum. The exact colorectal cancer causes are unknown, but there are certain risk factors that are linked with the development of colorectal cancer.
Risk Factors Associated with Colorectal Cancer
The risk factors associated with the development of colorectal cancer include:
- Older age
Although colon cancer can affect anyone at any age, people older than 50 are more likely to be affected by colon cancer.
- History of polyps
If a person is prone to developing colon polyps or has a family history of colon cancer, he/she is more likely to develop colon cancer.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
If a person has a chronic case of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, the individual has a higher risk of colon cancer.
A low-fibre and high-fat diet may lead to an increased risk of colon cancer. Consuming a lot of processed and/or red meat might increase the risk of colon cancer.
- Less physical activity
Not exercising regularly increases the risk of colon cancer.
- Diabetes and obesity
People with diabetes or insulin resistance and those who are obese have an increased risk of developing colon cancer.
- Drinking alcohol and smoking
Smoking and use of tobacco, as well as drinking alcohol, increases the risk of developing colon cancer.
Avoid the causes and take all the measures to avoid colorectal or any other cancer as such. Follow a healthy diet and lifestyle routine daily.
If you experience any of the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer, visit the doctors at Wockhardt Hospitals at the earliest. Our healthcare professionals at the Oncology Department are highly experienced in successfully treating patients and improving their quality of life with the most precise diagnosis, effective treatment, and follow-up medical care.
FAQs on Colorectal Cancer
Q. What foods to avoid after Colorectal Surgery?
Avoid foods that can make you feel gassy, such as bread and tough meats, as well as hot, fried, or gas-inducing items. To prevent swallowing air, which leads to gas, avoid using a straw, and refrain from chewing gum or using tobacco. Dehydration can be exacerbated by chocolate, alcohol, and caffeinated beverages.