Large intestine cancer is a very common and potentially fatal malignancy. The condition often goes undiagnosed for several years since it does not typically cause symptoms in the early stages. When symptoms do arise, they may include abdominal pain, bloody stools, and weight loss. An untreated case can lead to chronic fatigue, frequent illness, and severe gastrointestinal problems. Any unusual changes in bowel movements or other possible symptoms should be reported to a doctor immediately so the proper screening tests can be performed.
Early stage large intestine cancer is typically isolated on the inner lining of the colon. The size and number of cancerous cells are generally too small to cause irritation or obstructions in the bowels. Some people begin experiencing early symptoms of pain in their lower abdomens and changes in the consistency of their stools in the earliest stage, but most individuals do not have any noticeable problems. Symptoms are more likely to arise as cancer spreads deeper within the lining and muscle tissue.
Small tumors in the large intestine can cause worsening abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, and gas. Stools may be bloody and narrower than usual if the colon is obstructed. Many people have frequent episodes of diarrhea and constipation that do not seem to respond to over-the-counter medications and home remedies.
As large intestine cancer progresses, a person may feel fatigued most of the time and begin losing weight. The lower abdomen may be tender to the touch, and bowel movements can be painful. Cancer that spreads to the lymph nodes and other places in the body can cause symptoms of anemia, such as dizziness, headaches, shortness of breath, and severe fatigue. Health problems continue to worsen if medical care is not sought.
When a doctor suspects large intestine cancer, he or she can perform a series of diagnostic tests. Blood samples are analyzed to detect anemia and screen for other possible causes of symptoms, such as infections and autoimmune disorders. X-rays, computerized tomography scans, and colonoscopies are usually performed to carefully inspect the colon. If a tumor or abnormality is discovered, a biopsy can be performed to confirm the presence of cancer.
Surgery to remove part or all of the large intestine is effective at curing most cases of early stage cancer. If malignant cells have already spread, however, chemotherapy and radiation treatments may also be necessary. Late-stage large intestine cancer is often fatal despite aggressive cancer treatments. Doctors strongly urge people who experience symptoms or who are over the age of 50 to receive cancer screenings in hopes of detecting problems early.