Colon cancer is typically grouped with rectal cancer – these two types of cancer may be referred to as colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in both men and women. However, while it is more common in men, 1 in every 24 women at risk for developing this cancer.
Colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths among men and women combined, though experts believe that deaths could be prevented with screening and early diagnosis.
Read on to learn how colon cancer affects women, including risk factors, symptoms, and when to get screened.
Colon Cancer Symptoms in Women
What are the symptoms of colon cancer in women? Early-stage colon cancer rarely causes any obvious symptoms, so it is crucial to know the warning signs.
Some of the common symptoms of colon cancer include:
- Fatigue and Weakness
Fatigue is a constant state of exhaustion and weakness with no apparent cause; it is typically a symptom of an underlying condition.
It can be easy to confuse fatigue with simply being tired from day-to-day activities. Between work, chores, and other personal obligations, everyone can feel exhausted at times. However, if the exhaustion does not go away with rest, it could be fatigue.
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. 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.
In addition to colon cancer, fatigue and weakness could also be symptoms of anemia, diabetes, and heart disease.
- Change in Bowel Habits
A colon polyp on the lining of the colon can develop into cancer over time. Once the polyp turns into cancer, the slow growth of the tumor often affects bowel habits, which can produce symptoms. If you notice a change in the frequency of your bowel movements, or if you notice your stool becoming thinner, it could be a sign of 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.
- Blood in Stool
A warning sign for colon cancer is blood in the stool. Sometimes, you may notice bright red spots, and other times, it may not be visible to the naked eye. Stool may also appear very dark or black, indicating the presence of dried blood. If you see any sign of blood in your stool, you should consult your doctor. A fecal occult test can detect whether there’s blood in the stool, and additional examinations can also help your doctor determine the source of the blood and the proper treatment course.
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. Anyone experiencing rectal bleeding should see a doctor immediately. If you are over 40, your doctor will likely recommend tests such as a colonoscopy to exclude cancer.
- Unexplained Weight Loss
Sudden, unexplained weight loss is typically a symptom of different types of cancer, including colon cancer. Unintentional weight loss is the loss of 10 pounds (or more) in 6 months or less without knowing the exact cause.
Colon cancer can lead to unexplained weight loss in various ways. Cancer cells use up a lot of the body’s energy supply, and the immune system also utilizes energy as it works hard to fight the disease. Cancer cells can release substances into the body that change the way food is converted to energy, which can then cause unintentional weight loss. Moreover, if a tumor in the colon gets big enough, it could block the colon. This blockage can affect a person’s bowel habits, which can also lead to unexplained weight loss.
- Abdominal Cramps
Many people experience abdominal pain at one point or another, and like many symptoms, it may seem minor. It is a common symptom of noncancerous conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and hemorrhoids. However, abdominal pain that began recently and is severe and long-lasting can be a warning sign of cancer.
Colon cancer occurs in the large intestine, which can then affect bowel habits. This change in bowel habits can lead to bloating, cramping, and abdominal pain and may be a sign of colon cancer.
Risk Factors of Colon Cancer in Women
Some factors may increase a woman’s risk of developing colon cancer, including:
- Older age
- African-American race
- Family history of colon cancer
- A personal history of polyps or colon cancer
- Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon (such as Chron’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
- High-fat, low-fiber diet
- A sedentary lifestyle
Colon Cancer vs. Gynecological Symptoms: Understanding the Difference
Premenopausal women might dismiss the early warning signs of colon cancer, such as abdominal discomfort and bloating, as little more than menstrual issues. Although it is easy to differentiate some colon cancer and gynecological symptoms, such as rectal bleeding vs. vaginal bleeding, the differences are not always clear.
If there is any confusion, talk to your primary care doctor or obstetrician/gynecologist.
Screening for Colon Cancer: When to Get Screened
Colon cancer is one of the most treatable cancers; however, the only way to detect it is through screening.
People with an average risk of colon cancer should start their screenings at age 45. However, earlier screening may be recommended for anyone with a family history of colon cancer, Lynch syndrome, or polyposis syndromes. Further, if you have any conditions that affect the gastrointestinal tract, such as Chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or irritable bowel disease, talk with your doctor or a GI specialist to determine when and how often you should be screened for colon cancer.
Many of the symptoms of colon cancer can be overlooked, but they may be a warning sign of a dangerous condition. Detecting colon cancer in its early stages could save your life, so it’s important that you recognize the signs and symptoms of colon cancer.
When it comes to your health, YOU are your best advocate. Listen to your body. Get screened at the recommended time. Talk with your doctor about any changes that concern you.
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.