Colon cancer early symptoms are often absent and as a result, patients can sometimes present quite late on with their disease causing a bowel blockage or bowel obstruction (The earlier warning signs may include tiredness, going off food (anorexia), anaemia, weight loss, change in bowel habit similar to IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome e.g. diarrhea, constipation, mucus, wind, bloating and blood in the stool or ‘bleeding from the back passage’. On this page you will learn more about this condition, its prognosis and prevention strategies available.
Warning signs can be similar in other digestive disorders including IBS (although there is NO increased risk with this condition), inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease which is part of the reason early diagnosis can be delayed in some people.
IBS or colon cancer can cause altered bowel habit, but it is unusual to loose weight or develop anaemia with Irritable Bowel syndrome.
Bowel cancer is a common, but certain people are more at risk. It is most common in people over the age of 50 years (90% of cases) and 8 out of 10 are over the age of 60 years. It is slightly more common in men (1 in 18) in comparison to women (1:20).
Symptoms in young adults are usually due to genetic or inherited risk. The two main conditions causing this are:
1) Hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC) which normally develops in people under the age of 50.
2) Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), a condition that usually occurs in people under the age of 40 years and is characterized by multiple polyps in the bowel (often in the 1000’s).
These 2 conditions are usually distinguished by family history although not always, in particular adopted sufferers may not know their family history. Picking up colon cancer early symptoms in this group is clearly very important. Early detection can affect the prognosis in this group.
Colon cancer early symptoms can occur in anyone, but the some people are more at risk. Causes of bowel cancer are often multiple, but may include:
1) Age – as outlined
2) FH – as outlined
3) Obesity – poor diet and lack of exercise
6) Exposure to radiation
7) Other medical conditions that increase risk, e.g. ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, Sclerosing Cholangitis.
Targeting these groups would help to pick up colon cancer early symptoms which is clearly important.
Many digestive disorders have symptoms that raise concerns because they mimic cancer warning signs and these may include:
Anal fissure – tear in the anus
IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
Inflammatory bowel disease
Diarrheal illnesses e.g. infections, small bowel diseases and many more!
These can all cause rectal bleeding and should be excluded.
Survivability depends on many different factors particularly as colon cancer early symptoms are often infrequent, but by far the best way is by prevention in the first place. To understand this, you have to have awareness of the natural development of this malignancy. Most develop from polyps or adenomas. These are ‘cherry-like’ protuberances that develop in the bowel and as they grow, they change into pre-cancer polyps or ‘dysplastic polyps’ and then cancer. These polyps can cause bleeding, one example of a variety of symptoms. An example of a polyp can be seen here:
These polyps can be removed quite easily by snaring or hot biopsy. To do this a colonoscopy is performed (flexible camera test to look into the large bowel). Here is a picture of a snare polypectomy:
A lot of countries are now employing bowel screening to increase survival targeting people over the age of 50 without symptoms of colorectal malignancy. Investigations such as fecal occult blood testing (testing the stool for blood), flexible sigmoidoscopy procedure, a colonoscopy and x-ray technologies such as colonography are all used to as ways of screening people either with or without colon cancer early symptoms. Also, those with known risk such as inflammatory bowel disease and family history are targeted.
The main treatment for bowel cancer is surgery although depending on stage of disease other treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy maybe employed. Staging of the disease is dependent on the degree of spread and is classified according to the TNM or Tumor, Node, Metastasis stage. It is this staging system that can give you a statistical chance of survival or prognosis of colon cancer as outlined:
Stage 1 - 93% 5 year survival
Stage 2a - 85% 5 year survival
Stage 2b - 72% 5 year survival
Stage 3a - 83% 5 year survival
Stage 3b - 64% 5 year survival
Stage 3c - 44% 5 year survival
Stage 4 - 8% 5 year survival
Clearly, colon cancer mortality rate throughout the world continues to improve and the earlier the symptoms of colorectal disease are picked up, the better the chances of improving the mortality rate.
Prevention is always better than cure. You can lower your risk of developing the disease by adopting a healthy lifestyle (smoking cessation, reduce alcohol intake, diet and exercise) and seeking medical advice at an early stage if you develop any of the signs of bowel cancer already described, but listed again for convenience:
2) Off food (anorexia)
3) Weight loss
4) Change in bowel habit (diarrhea, constipation, bleeding, bloating, wind).
In summary, in people with colon cancer early symptoms, early detection will improve prognosis and reduce deaths in this very common malignancy.
Patient stories can be shared in the forum below. If you are a cancer patient or have had the disease I would love to hear from you. If you know someone with the disease, share your experience of this too. Have you had symptoms or early warning signs? Would you like to discuss this further, then let me know your thoughts.
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