Can your bowels help detect cancer?

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.

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  1. Since younger people are being diagnosed at higher rates, I’d like to know what is recommended for those folks. Could you please tell me where I can get the test that is performed at home.

  2. carol a. sanders March 31, 2018 at 4:54 pm · Reply

    it is called Cologuard, but your doctor needs to order it for you. it was delivered to me in 2 days, and was interesting to use. I had polyps, so I still needed a colonoscopy, after it (all benign). kind of a science project, but easy.

    • Hello Carol, Thanks for posting here! My husband has a history of colon cancer in his family. He has had several precancerous and benign Polyps removed. But we just moved and the new Internist ordered Cologard, stating it was safer than a colonoscopy. I don’t feel totally confident about this new easier test. So I’m wondering, did the cologard detect the Polyps for you? Thanks again.


        “Cologuard is not for everyone. Cologuard is not a replacement for diagnostic or surveillance colonoscopy in patients at high risk for colorectal cancer. Both false positives and false negatives do occur. In a clinical study of Cologuard, 13% of people without cancer or precancer tested positive. Any positive should be followed by a diagnostic colonoscopy. A negative Cologuard test result does not guarantee absence of cancer or advanced adenoma. Following a negative result, patients should continue participating in a screening program at an interval and with a method appropriate for the individual patient. Cologuard performance when used for repeat testing has not been evaluated or established. Cologuard results should be interpreted with caution for individuals over age 75 as the rate of false positive results increases with age. Patients should not provide a sample for Cologuard if they have diarrhea or if they have blood in their urine or stool (e.g., from bleeding hemorrhoids, bleeding cuts or wounds on their hands, rectal bleeding, or menstruation).”

  3. Seriously. I know many of colorectal cancer survivors and even one of my friends had been recognized with colorectal cancer and was diagnosed and treated by colorectal surgeons in Sydney.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.