Can your bowels help detect cancer?
You might think that if you had colorectal cancer, you’d know it. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case.
“Actually, the most common symptom of colorectal cancer is no symptom at all,” says Dr. Joaquin Estrada, a colorectal surgeon at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “That’s why it’s so important to get screened as recommended by your physician.”
Most people do not show or recognize symptoms until in a very late stage of the cancer. At that point, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), you may notice these concerning differences in your bowels and overall health:
- A recurring change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or skinnier bowel movements
- A feeling that you need to poop that doesn’t go away after doing so
- Rectal bleeding
- Dark stools
- Blood in the stool
- Cramping or abdominal pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
“While these symptoms can occur at a late stage, there’s no reason to wait until they occur to get screened,” says Dr. Estrada. “The earlier colorectal cancer is caught, the better the chance at a positive health outcome.”
There are numerous screening methods available, including colonoscopy and even a test you can do at home.
“Screening colonoscopies are the most effective method of screening,” says Dr. Estrada. “They are painless and allow us to check for and remove polyps that may be or become cancerous right on the spot. But any type of screening test is better than no test. Talk to you doctor about which one would best fit your needs.”
The ACS recommends regular screening every 10 years for both men and women starting at age 50. If you’re at higher than average risk, such as if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you may need to start screening even earlier or be screened more frequently. Consult your physician to learn more about your risk and screening options.
Take our Colorectal Health Assessment to determine your estimated lifetime risk.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.