Colorectal cancer can often be insidious in presentation and depending on the location and size of the tumor, the signs and symptoms can vary significantly. Some of the symptoms you should look out for are:
Please understand that many of these symptoms can be caused by other non cancerous conditions or dietary indiscretion. If you should have these symptoms persist over a period of time, you should have yourself assessed up by a doctor. Your doctor will take a careful history and examine you for signs of malignancy. These however have limited value as most colorectal tumors do not have much signs until they become fairly large or advanced. Your doctor may also recommend certain tests to further evaluate the colon.
- a change in bowel habits: diarrhoea, constipation or change in caliber of the stool
- a feeling of incomplete evacuation even after you have gone to the toilet
- fresh or altered blood (which may appear sticky and tarry) in the stool
- abdominal pain or discomfort
- abdominal bloating and flatulence
- abdominal mass
- weakness, fatigue
- unexplained weight loss
Tumors that are located near the anus and rectum tend to present with more obvious bleeding in the stool, change in stool caliber and consistency and feelings of incomplete evacuation while tumors located more proximally in the colon may remain silent except for vague abdominal discomfort, low blood count due to occult bleeding and weight loss.
The tests that are commonly done to evaluate colonic disease are:
Double Contrast Barium Enema
CT Colonography (Virtual Colonoscopy)
If a polyp or tumor is detected by imaging tests such as double contrast barium enema or CT colonography, colonoscopy should be performed to remove the growth if possible, or obtain tissue from it to confirm the diagnosis. If cancer is detected, further imaging studies may be performed to determine the local extent of the tumor and if the tumor has spread to other organs.
Depending on the extent of the disease and whether there is spread to other organs, you doctor will then decide on further treatment.