What is a Colonoscopy? Plus: 4 Symptoms of Colon Cancer That Everyone Should Know!
Did you know that colon and rectal cancers are the third most common types of cancers in the U.S.? Together, they lead to approximately 50,000 deaths every year.
Colon cancer is often overlooked especially in its early stages since it has no obvious signs and symptoms. In fact, most people usually seek health care once it is too late and the cancer has already advanced. Therefore, it is important that you get screened. The colon and rectum are parts of the body’s digestive system, which removes and processes nutrients from food and helps pass waste material out of the body. .
What is a Colonoscopy? Why is it necessary?
A procedure called a Colonoscopy, which is an imaging investigation of the colon (large intestine or large bowel), can help identify and remove polyps which have the potential of neoplastic transformation.
How often should one undergo colonoscopy depends on the degree of the risk and the abnormalities found at previous colonoscopies. The standard and most widely accepted recommendation has been that healthy people at normal risk for colon cancer should undergo a colonoscopy at the age of 50 and every 10 years thereafter, for removing colonic polyps before they become cancerous.
A colonoscopy may be done for many reasons, but the clear majority of them are performed as part of screening programs for colon cancer. It may also be performed when it is necessary to investigate signs and symptoms of colon cancer.
Four Common Symptoms of Colon Cancer
While the following four occurrences aren’t a definitive symptom of colon cancer, they are common in patients who have it.
Unexplained Weight Loss: Losing weight can be a good thing for most people, especially for those who are trying to shed a couple of pounds. However, unexplained weight loss without exercise and dieting should raise eyebrows. This can be because of cancers such as colon cancer. Cancer cells usually trigger an immune reaction making the body mount an immune response which can be energy consuming. The cells also release substances in the body which affects the digestive process leading to weight loss. Therefore, should you notice a sudden decrease in your weight, it is important that you consult a doctor.
Excessive Fatigue: Fatigue is a common symptom seen in colon cancer patients. Usually, cancer erodes the intestinal lining causing bleeding. This results in a reduction of hemoglobin levels which then leads to easy fatiguability and shortness of breath. However, this isn’t usually an early sign but rather it comes as the cancer advances. It is important that you do not confuse fatigue with exhaustion. While you can get exhausted from strenuous work or exercise, fatigue usually occurs with no apparent cause or even minimal physical activity. If unsure, it is important that you consult a doctor.
Abdominal Cramps: Many people suffer from abdominal pain at some point in their lives. While abdominal pain is a common symptom, it can also be an indication of an underlying illness. While not specific to colon cancer, any abdominal pain that is of gradual onset and is persistent for prolonged periods of time despite taking medication can be attributed to cancer. Cancer in the digestive system affects your bowel habits thus leading to cramping and bloating.
Blood in Stool: Blood in stool is an indication that some form of bleeding is occurring somewhere along the digestive tract. Colon cancer usually is a major culprit causing bleeding. The amount of bleeding usually depends on how advanced the cancer is, sometimes it is microscopic but other times it is visible to the naked eye especially in advanced stages. The blood is often bright red in color. However, the stool can also appear very dark or black, signifying the presence of dried blood. In case you see this symptom, please consult a doctor so a fecal occult test can be performed, and proper treatment initiated.