Healthy Living

Early Symptoms, Detection Process and Treatments for Colorectal Cancer

Mar 19 2024

The following piece was written by Ross E. Jones, MD, a gastroenterologist at Mercy Health – Paducah Gastroenterology.

As a gastroenterologist specializing in colorectal cancer, I’m committed to raising awareness about this prevalent and potentially life-threatening disease.

Colorectal cancer, which affects the colon and rectum, is the third most common cancer in both men and women worldwide. Therefore, I’d like to share some of the early symptoms of colorectal cancer to look out for, what the detection processes involved in diagnosing the disease are as well as the range of treatments available to combat it.

Let’s start with the early symptoms of colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer often begins as a small, noncancerous polyp in the colon or rectum. However, this polyp can progress over time into a malignant tumor. Recognizing the early warning signs of colorectal cancer is crucial for timely diagnosis and treatment.

Some of the common symptoms that may indicate the presence of colorectal cancer include:

  • Changes in bowel habits: Persistent changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool, may signal the presence of colorectal cancer.
  • Rectal bleeding: Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding, which may appear bright red or dark in color, is a concerning symptom that should not be ignored.
  • Abdominal discomfort: Persistent abdominal pain, cramping, bloating or discomfort that does not resolve with usual treatments warrants further evaluation.
  • Unexplained weight loss: Significant and unexplained weight loss, especially when accompanied by other symptoms, may be a warning sign of colorectal cancer.
  • Fatigue and weakness: Persistent fatigue, weakness or a general feeling of illness that persists despite adequate rest may indicate an underlying health issue, including colorectal cancer.

It is important to note that these symptoms are not exclusive to colorectal cancer and can be caused by various other conditions. So, if you experience any of these symptoms, especially if they are persistent or worsening, it is essential meet with your health care provider for further evaluation to figure out what is going on.

Next, let’s cover the detection processes for colorectal cancer.

Early detection is key to improving outcomes for colorectal cancer patients. Screening tests and diagnostic procedures play a crucial role in identifying colorectal cancer at an early stage when treatment is most effective.

Some of the standard detection processes used in the diagnosis of colorectal cancer include:

  • A colonoscopy: Colonoscopy is the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening. During a colonoscopy, a flexible tube with a camera is inserted into the colon to visualize the colon lining and detect any abnormalities, such as polyps or tumors. Biopsies can be taken during the procedure for further evaluation.
  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT): FOBT is a non-invasive test that detects blood in the stool, which may indicate the presence of colorectal cancer. This test is often used as a screening tool to identify individuals at risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: Similar to a colonoscopy, a flexible sigmoidoscopy allows for visualization of the lower part of the colon and rectum. This procedure detects polyps, tumors or other abnormalities in the colon.
  • Stool DNA Test: Stool DNA testing is a newer screening method that analyzes stool samples for specific DNA markers associated with colorectal cancer. This test can help identify individuals at higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.

When it comes to detecting colorectal cancer, you should discuss with your provider what is the most appropriate screening test based on your age, risk factors and medical history. Additionally, regular screening for colorectal cancer can help detect the disease at an early stage and improve treatment outcomes.

And lastly, let’s run through the available treatment options for colorectal cancer.

The treatment approach for colorectal cancer depends on the stage of the disease, the location of the tumor and the overall health of the patient.

Common treatments for colorectal cancer may include:

  • Surgery: Surgery is often the primary treatment for early-stage colorectal cancer. During surgery, the tumor and surrounding tissues are removed to prevent the spread of cancer.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells or prevent their growth. Chemotherapy may be used before surgery, after surgery or as a pain-relieving treatment for advanced colorectal cancer.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to destroy cancer cells. It may be combined with surgery, chemotherapy or as a soothing treatment to relieve symptoms.
  • Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy drugs target specific molecules or pathways involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells. These drugs are often used in combination with chemotherapy for advanced colorectal cancer.
  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy stimulates the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. It is a newer treatment approach that is being studied for its effectiveness in colorectal cancer.
  • Clinical trials: Participation in clinical trials may offer access to cutting-edge treatments and therapies still under investigation. Clinical trials help advance the field of colorectal cancer treatment and may provide new options for patients.

Treatment choices and plans are tailored to each patient based on their specific circumstances and preferences. As a patient, you need to have open and honest discussions with your health care team about your diagnosis, treatment options and expectations for care.

When it comes to colorectal cancer, regular screenings, healthy lifestyle choices and proactive communication with your health care provider are essential components of a comprehensive management approach. And remember, early detection saves lives. Together, we can work toward a future where colorectal cancer is detected early and treated effectively for improved outcomes and quality of life.

Learn more about colorectal cancer as well as the cancer care services we provide at Mercy Health.

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As a female under the age of 40, even with a diagnosis of our ovarian cancer and discomfort in my right lower abdominal area, I had a gastroenterologist argue as to why I needed a colonoscopy. He ate crow when my colonoscopy showed my ovarian cancer was actually mets from Colon Cancer. I would have never had the colonoscopy done until it was far too late because I'm considered to be "too young" by every medical and insurance graph for who should get a colonoscopy.
May 05th, 2019 | 3:27am

Peggy Poston

Treated for colon cancer 11 years ago. Always suggesting colonoscopies to friends and family. Many coworkers had colonoscopies after I was diagnosed. Go routinely for mine. So grateful to Dr. Leuenberger, oncologist and his staff years ago on Marie Drive . And to the surgeon Dr. Sobolewski.Also to the Great Physician.
May 13th, 2019 | 9:13am

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