Blood in the stool:

                           Most of the time, blood in the stool is not due to

                          cancer. Hemorrhoids (rectal veins) are the main culprit.

                          Sometimes what people describe as blood may turn out to

                          be food residue from beats or tomatoes. So, if you notice

                          blood with a bowel movement, don’t panic. However, this

                          symptom should not be ignored and a physician should

                          evaluate any patient with rectal bleeding.


                          Change in bowel habits:

                                 This refers to a new but persistent change in the size,

                          shape, frequency and consistency of the stool. In other

                          words, someone may notice the new onset of constipation

                          and/or diarrhea. What is important to notice is the change.

                          This is not referring to the person who has a lifelong history

                          of diarrhea and/or constipation. Instead, for example, a

                          person who always had a tendency towards diarrhea may

                          notice a few weeks of new constipation, poor bowel

                          evacuation, and perhaps more bloating and abdominal pain

                          in the setting of a colon cancer blocking the passage of fecal



                         Change in shape or size of stool:

                          If a cancer is narrowing the opening of the lower part

                          of the colon, the stool may become persistently pencil thin

                          with a decreased size and caliber (thickness). The important

                          feature to notice in this situation is that the stool is

                          persistently altered from what an individual would consider



                         Abdominal discomfort:

                                 Do not panic if you are saying to yourself, ” I always

                          have abdominal discomfort.” Abdominal discomfort is

                          common in healthy individuals without cancer. In the setting

                          of colon cancer, abdominal discomfort usually presents with

                          other symptoms described here, such as a change in bowel

                          habits and/or anemia. If the pain is from a cancer partially

                          blocking the colon, it is often associated with bloating,

                          cramping and nausea. If the pain is from the cancer itself, it

                          may be localized to one specific point in the abdomen and

                          be reproducible with palpation.


                         Unexplained anemia:

                                 Anemia refers to a lowering of the red blood cell count.

                          Fatigue can be a result of anemia because the red blood

                          cells are responsible for delivering oxygen to the body

                          tissues. In the setting of colorectal cancer, the anemia may

                          be caused by a persistent, microscopic amount of chronic

                          blood loss in the stool. The anemia is not usually caused by

                          large amounts of blood lost directly into the stool. Instead, it

                          is low iron (iron deficiency) that often causes the anemia

                          seen with colon cancer. Why does this occur? Iron is

                          essential for the formation of functioning red blood cells.

                          Without iron, the body is unable to produce more red blood

                          cells. In the setting of microscopic, persistent bleeding from

                          colon cancer, iron is lost with the red blood cells and can

                          slowly deplete the total body stores of iron. The production

                          of new red blood cells is reduced and eventually the total

                          red blood cell count decreases causing anemia. For

                          menstruating women, iron deficiency is commonly seen

                          because of the monthly loss of blood with the period.

                          However, for men, iron deficiency is uncommon and always

                          needs to be further investigated by a physician.

                          Unexplained weight loss:

                           Most people want to lose weight. Occasionally,

                          someone may notice that they are losing weight without any

                          change in their diet or activity. Unexplained weight loss is

                          frequently associated with fatigue and should be evaluated

                          by a physician. Besides cancer, this symptom can be due to

                          depression, an eating disorder, food avoidance due to

                          abdominal pain, and malabsorption.


                          THE BOTTOM LINE

                                 In our crisis-oriented health care system, we often wait

                          for symptoms of a disease before we seek medical

                          attention. Even worse, once symptoms present, we often

                          ignore them. In the case of colorectal cancer, do not ignore

                          the symptoms described above. Better yet, do not even

                          wait for symptoms to develop. If you are over the age of

                          50, you should be screened for this disease. If you have a

                          family history of cancer, discuss with your health care

                          provider when screening should begin; it may start at age 40

                          or earlier. Colorectal cancer is often preventable and

                          curable if caught early. Discuss the options for colorectal

                          cancer prevention and screening with your health care

                          provider. Take responsibility for your own health and learn

                          your family medical history.


                                 With all the uncertainty in our lives, especially when it

                          comes to our own health, wouldn’t it be nice if colorectal

                          cancer was one less thing you had to worry about?