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Colon and Rectal Cancer

Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

The following excerpt is taken from Chapter One of Colon & Rectal Cancer: A Comprehensive Guide for Patients & Families by Lorraine Johnston, copyright 2000 by O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. For book orders/information, call (800) 998-9938. Permission is granted to print and distribute this excerpt for noncommercial use as long as the above source is included. The information in this article is meant to educate and should not be used as an alternative for professional medical care.

The experience of colorectal cancer might begin with symptoms that you or your doctor may notice. We too begin by describing symptoms, although many people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer as part of a routine examination, without any symptoms being present.

Symptoms of colorectal cancer may appear suddenly, or may develop gradually over a period of time:

  • Changes in bowel movements:

    • Narrowing of stools

    • Red, bloody bowel movements, perhaps with blood clots

    • Black, tarry bowel movements

    • Bowel movements containing mucus as well as blood

    • Persistent diarrhea

    • Constipation

    • Total bowel obstruction, characterized by extreme pain

  • Bowel perforation, accompanied by fever and pain

  • Rectal bleeding between bowel movements

  • Abdominal pain and cramping, either chronic or acute

  • Distention of the abdomen

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Weight loss

  • Fatigue

  • Anemia (low red blood cell counts)

  • A sense that the bowel hasn't completely emptied

  • An ongoing urgent feeling to empty the bowels

  • Vaginal fistulas, that is, tubes that form between the vagina and colon or vagina and bladder as the result of a disease process

  • Pain in the tissue between the anus and vagina, or between the anus and scrotal sac

  • Urinary tract symptoms such as pain, blockage, or urge to urinate
When colorectal cancer is advanced, jaundice, back pain, and cough also may be present.

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