Many of the symptoms of colorectal cancer can also be caused by something that isn’t cancer, such as infection, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, or inflammatory bowel disease.In most cases, people who have these symptoms do not have cancer. Still, if you have any of these problems, it is a sign that you should go to the doctor so the cause can be found and treated, if needed:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
- Rectal bleeding
- Dark stools, or blood in the stool
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
When colorectal cancer does turn out to be the cause, symptoms often appear only after the cancer has grown or spread. That’s why it’s best to be tested for colorectal cancer before ever having any symptoms. Colorectal cancer that’s found through screening – testing that’s done on people with no symptoms – is usually easier to treat. Screening can even prevent some colorectal cancers by finding and removing pre-cancerous growths called polyps.
Screening could save your life
Colorectal cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms until it is advanced, and recent data shows the number of new cases of colorectal cancer is increasing in younger populations. This is why the American Cancer Society recommends regular colorectal cancer screening for people at average risk starting at age 45. People with a family history of the disease or who have certain other risk factors should talk with their doctor about beginning screening at a younger age. Several different tests can be used to screen for colorectal cancer. Talk with your doctor to find out which tests might be right for you.