Colon Cancer Symptoms

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Symptoms of colon cancer can include:

  • A change in bowel habits, such as more frequent diarrhea or constipation.
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool.
  • Ongoing discomfort in the belly area, such as cramps, gas or pain.
  • A feeling that the bowel doesn’t empty all the way during a bowel movement.
  • Weakness or tiredness.
  • Losing weight without trying.


Doctors aren’t certain what causes most colon cancers.

Colon cancer happens when cells in the colon develop changes in their DNA. A cells’ DNA holds the instructions that tell the cell what to do. The changes tell the cells to multiply quickly. The changes let the cells continue living when healthy cells die as part of their natural lifecycle.

This causes too many cells. The cells might form a mass called a tumor. The cells can invade and destroy healthy body tissue. In time, the cells can break away and spread to other parts of the body. When cancer spreads, it’s called metastatic cancer.

Risk factors

Factors that may increase the risk of colon cancer include:

  • Older age. Colon cancer can happen at any age. But most people with colon cancer are older than 50. The numbers of people younger than 50 who have colon cancer has been growing. Doctors don’t know why.
  • Black race. Black people in the United States have a greater risk of colon cancer than do people of other races.
  • A personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps. Having had colon cancer or colon polyps increases the risk of colon cancer.
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases. Conditions that cause pain and swelling of the intestines, called inflammatory bowel diseases, can increase the risk of colon cancer. These conditions include ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
  • Inherited syndromes that increase colon cancer risk. Some DNA changes that increase the risk of colon cancer run in families. The most common inherited syndromes that increase colon cancer risk are familial adenomatous polyposis and Lynch syndrome.
  • Family history of colon cancer. Having a blood relative who has colon cancer increases the risk of getting colon cancer. Having more than one family member who has colon cancer or rectal cancer increases the risk more.
  • Low-fiber, high-fat diet. Colon cancer and rectal cancer might be linked with a typical Western diet. This type of diet tends to be low in fiber and high in fat and calories. Research in this area has had mixed results. Some studies have found an increased risk of colon cancer in people who eat a lot of red meat and processed meat.
  • Not exercising regularly. People who are not active are more likely to develop colon cancer. Getting regular physical activity might help lower the risk.
  • Diabetes. People with diabetes or insulin resistance have an increased risk of colon cancer.
  • Obesity. People who are obese have an increased risk of colon cancer. Obesity also increases the risk of dying of colon cancer.
  • Smoking. People who smoke can have an increased risk of colon cancer.
  • Drinking alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can increase the risk of colon cancer.
  • Radiation therapy for cancer. Radiation therapy directed at the abdomen to treat previous cancers increases the risk of colon cancer.

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