What are the signs and symptoms of colon cancer?

Updated: Apr 15, 2020
  • Author: Tomislav Dragovich, MD, PhD; Chief Editor: N Joseph Espat, MD, MS, FACS  more...
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Because of increased emphasis on screening practices, colon cancer is now often detected before it starts to cause symptoms. In more advanced cases, common clinical presentations include iron-deficiency anemia, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, change in bowel habits, and intestinal obstruction or perforation. Right-sided lesions are more likely to bleed and cause diarrhea, while left-sided tumors are usually detected later and may present as bowel obstruction.

In patients younger than 50 years old—an age group that is experiencing rising rates of colorectal cancer (see Overview/Epidemiology)—a study that used data from England's Clinical Practice Research Datalink found that abdominal pain was the most common presenting symptom of colorectal cancer. Compared with other age groups, these younger patients had the lowest percentage of typical ‘red-flag’ signs and symptoms (ie, rectal bleeding, anemia, change in bowel habits, diarrhea, abdominal mass). Instead, these patients were more likely to have presented to their primary care provider, in the year before diagnosis, with nonspecific symptoms. [46]

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