5 Early Warning Signs of Colorectal Cancer

Learn common symptoms of colorectal cancer.

By Diana Kelly Levey
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How Colon Cancer Can Develop (2:20)

UPDATE: This article was updated and revised with new information on July 22, 2019.

Despite colorectal cancer being the fourth most-commonly diagnosed cancer in men and women in the United States, it's often one of the least discussed health threats, due to its lack of symptoms and the sensitive area it affects. Each year, approximately 145,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, but a new 2019 study reveals that the number of diagnosed cases is on the rise, particularly in young people. 

The study, published in CANCER, a journal of the American Cancer Society, found that the amount of people under the age of 50 who were diagnosed with colorectal cancer rose from 10 percent to 12.2 percent in 11 years between 2004 and 2015. What's particularly alarming is those who were diagnosed younger were more likely to be diagnosed with an advanced stage of the cancer (stage III or IV) than those over the age of 50.

With colorectal cancer, the most common symptom is no symptom, so make sure you get screened with a colonoscopy. Guidelines updated for 2019 now recommend your first screening to start at age 45, as opposed to 50, which was the previous recommended age. Make sure to get a colonoscopy at 45, regardless of noticable changes, but here are a few symptoms to be aware of that could indicate colorectal cancer.

You’re exhausted.

Sure, there can be one million things causing your exhaustion, but be aware of fatigue or lack of energy that’s unusual for you. If you feel very tired or weak lately and can’t explain why, bring it up with your doctor.

You notice rectal bleeding.

See blood in your stool? You might think it’s a hemorrhoid or tearing, but this could also be a symptom of colorectal cancer. Make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible to have it checked out.

You’ve got abdominal pain.

If you often experience cramps, gas, or pain in your abdomen, these could be warning signs of colorectal cancer. You might also find that you feel “full,” or bloated, or have the sensation that your bowel does not empty completely.

You’re losing weight — without trying.

One of the signs of colorectal cancer (and many other kinds of cancer) is unexplained weight loss. If you find that the numbers on the scale are dropping down and you weren’t even trying to lose weight, it could mean something is wrong.

Your stools are different.

Pay attention to any changes in bowel habits, including stools that are shaped differently than usual. Change in stools could be a symptom of colorectal cancer and should be reported to your doctor for proper assessment.

Colorectal cancer is treatable if detected early. So pay attention to any changes in your body and make an appointment with your doctor. If you haven’t done so already, and you’re 45+, make an appointment for your colonoscopy screening.

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Related:

How to Prepare for a Colonoscopy

Colon Cancer Guidelines You Should Know About

What a Colon Looks Like

Article written by Diana Kelly Levey