Health Topics

Signs of colon cancer: What everyone should know


June 11, 2021

Early discovery can have a significant impact on a patient’s survival.

The good news: If colorectal (colon) cancer is found in the “local” stage, the chance of a five-year survival is 90 percent. The bad news: According to the American Cancer Society, only 40 percent of cases are diagnosed at an early stage, partly due to low screening rates.

Cancer checks save lives

A colonoscopy can identify signs of colon cancer, the second-largest cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. Learn more about colonoscopy.

What does “local stage” mean? The stages of colon cancer are as follows:

  • Polyp: Most colorectal cancers develop from these noncancerous growths.
  • In situ: Cancer has formed, but is not yet growing inside the colon or rectum walls.
  • Local: Cancer is now growing in the colon or rectum walls; nearby tissue is not affected.
  • Regional: Growth beyond the colon or rectum walls and into other tissue or lymph nodes.
  • Distant: Cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as liver or lungs.

The American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45.

Signs and symptoms of colon cancer are broken down into two categories: local and systemic.

Signs of colon cancer include the following:

Local colorectal cancer symptoms

Local symptoms are those that have a direct effect on the colon or rectum.

  • Changes in your bowel habits
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Alternating diarrhea and constipation
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
  • Abdominal bloating, cramps or discomfort
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
  • Stools that are thinner than normal

Systemic colorectal cancer symptoms

Systemic colorectal cancer symptoms are those that affect your entire body.

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Anemia
  • Jaundice
  • Weakness or fatigue

As with most conditions, preventive tips include:

Don’t Delay

Some things in life can be put off. A cancer screening shouldn’t be one of them. Cancer checks save lives.

Learn More