Men are notorious for not going to the doctor, whether it’s for a sick visit, a screening, or a routine physical exam. However, when it comes to colon cancer, a visit to the doctor could be the best decision you ever make.
According to statistics, colon cancer (also called colorectal cancer) is the third most commonly occurring cancer in men and the second most commonly occurring cancer in women. Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is about 4.4% in men and 4.1% in women.
Read on to learn how colon cancer affects men, including risk factors, symptoms, and treatment.
Symptoms of Colon Cancer in Men
Colon cancer typically doesn’t cause any symptoms at all; however, there are some warning signs that you should recognize. If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your doctor to be examined.
The symptoms of colon cancer are the same in men and women, and may include the following:
- Changes in Bowel Habits
Often, an upset stomach or a minor infection can cause changes in your bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrow and thin stools. However, these issues are usually resolved within a few days as the illness subsides. Changes in bowel habits that last more than a few days may be a sign of an underlying health issue, including colon cancer.
Colon cancer can inhibit the large intestine’s ability to perform its usual tasks, such as absorbing nutrients and water, and ridding the body of waste. Drastic changes in stool consistency can be an early sign that something isn’t quite right. Watery, loose stool; constipation, or diarrhea unrelated to another condition can be a symptom of colon cancer.
- Fatigue and Weakness
Fatigue is a constant state of exhaustion and weakness with no apparent cause; it is generally a symptom of an underlying condition.
People with colon cancer may feel chronic fatigue or weakness, possible due to the cancer cells utilizing extra energy and the stress of bowel symptoms. Although feeling tired every now and then is normal, chronic fatigue does not go away with rest.
Cancer cells can cause fatigue as they use up the body’s energy. Sometimes, colon cancer can cause fatigue due to internal blood loss caused by the disease. Furthermore, the symptoms of colon cancer are often connected. Other symptoms, such as change in bowel habits and weight loss can increase the feeling of weakness.
- Bloating and Cramps
Occasional bloating or cramps are common digestive issues that can occur due to gas, an upset stomach or eating certain foods. However, experiencing unexplained and frequent bloating and gas can be a sign of colon cancer, though these symptoms are often the result of other health issues as well.
Colon cancer transpires in the large intestine, which can affect bowel habits. This change in bowel habits can lead to abdominal pain, cramps, and bloating and may be a sign of colon cancer.
- Blood in the Stool
Seeing blood in the stool can be scary. The stool may have streaks of fresh red blood, or the whole stool may have a tarry, darker appearance.
Usually, rectal bleeding comes from bleeding in the lower colon or rectum and is a common symptom of colon cancer. Bright red blood on the toilet paper after a bowel movement, or pink or red water in the toilet bowl can be signs of rectal bleeding. Often, people attribute rectal bleeding to hemorrhoids, which can prevent an early cancer diagnosis.
There are several other possible causes of bloody stools. However, anyone experiencing blood in the stool should still see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
- Sudden, Unexplained Weight Loss
Sudden, unexplained weight loss is a sign of several types of cancer. Unintentionally losing 10 pounds (or more) within 6 months may be a sign to report to your doctor. In people with cancer, the weight loss may be due to cancer cells consuming more of the body’s energy. Plus, the immune system is also working hard to fight off the cancer cells.
Also, if a tumor in the colon gets large enough, it may lead to blockages in the colon. This blockage can affect a person’s bowel habits, which may lead to unexplained weight loss.
- Shortness of Breath
Once cancer starts to drain energy from the body and fatigue sets in, it is common for people to experience related symptoms, including shortness of breath. They may find it hard to catch their breath or might become winded quickly from something as simple as walking a short distance.
Risk Factors of Colon Cancer in Men
Some factors may increase a man’s risk of developing colon cancer, including:
- Older age
- Family history of colon cancer
- A personal history of polyps or colon cancer
- African-American race
- High-fat, low-fiber diet
- Being overweight or obese
- Sedentary lifestyle
- A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (such as Chron’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
- Some inherited gene mutations (such as Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis)
Colon cancer is highly treatable if an early diagnosis is made, and when the cancer is only in the bowel and has not spread to other areas of the body. The most common treatment for colon cancer is surgery, and it has a cure rate of about 50%. During surgery, a surgeon will remove the cancerous growth and any lymph nodes nearby, as well as a section of healthy tissue surrounding the growth. Then, they will reconnect the healthy parts of the bowel.
If the cancer is advanced, surgeons may have to remove more of the colon. If the disease reaches too low into the rectum, the surgeon may remove this part of the large intestine as well.
Furthermore, doctors may recommend chemotherapy to people who have a higher risk of recurring tumors.
When to See a Doctor
In many cases, digestive symptoms don’t indicate cancer. However, if the symptoms appear more regularly or if it steadily gets worse, it is best to consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Even if the underlying cause is not colon cancer, the doctor may be able to identify and diagnose the underlying condition for which they can recommend the appropriate treatment.
Many people with colon cancer don’t show any early symptoms, so experiencing symptoms can be a sign that the cancer is growing or spreading.
The American Cancer Society recommend that men with an average risk of colon cancer begin screening at the age of 45 years old.
Anyone who notices new, unexplained digestive symptoms or is uncertain about their symptoms should consult their doctor. Early screening and diagnosis are highly important in people with colon cancer.
Disclaimer: The information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All information contained on this web site is for general information purposes only.