Most individuals diagnosed with bowel cancer are in their fifth or sixth decade of life or older, but it can develop at any age. Most cases of bowel cancer develop from benign cell clumps inside of the colon called polyps. As these growths become larger, one of the cells can incur a genetic mutation can cause cancer to develop. Bowel cancer is diagnosed with a blood stool test, stool DNA test, sigmoidoscopy, barium enema x-ray, colonoscopy, MRI scans, and or CT colonography. Regular colon cancer screenings are recommended for individuals between fifty and seventy-five years old. Treatment for bowel cancer is usually a combination of methods, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, proton beam therapy, immunotherapy, and targeted drug therapy.
Changes In Bowel Habits
An individual who experiences changes in bowel habits may be affected by bowel cancer. Due to it being ambiguous, the exact meaning of bowel habit changes may not be entirely clear to an individual. Color changes of the stool that can indicate bowel cancer include deep red stools, white-colored stools, or black tarry stools. Consistency changes to look out for in regards to bowel cancer include stools that are dry, hard, loose, watery, or are accompanied by fluid or mucus. Changes in the frequency of an individual's stools can be a cause of concern when it comes to bowel cancer. Going seventy-two hours without a bowel movement is a change that can be indicative of an obstruction caused by bowel cancer. This term also encompasses the individual's ability to control their bowel movements. Sudden bowel movement urges an individual is not able to control may be a sign of bowel cancer. In rare cases, stool that is consistently very narrow may also indicate the presence of malignancy in the bowel.
An individual affected by bowel cancer may experience abdominal pain, which can present in one or more ways. Relatively localized and sharp pain in the abdominal region accompanied by nausea and vomiting can indicate the bowel has become blocked or perforated. Cancerous growth in the bowel can be the cause of such a perforation or blockage and result in abdominal pain. Abdominal pain that is longer lasting in an individual and is accompanied by cramping and bloating can indicate a growing cancerous bowel tumor. Bowel cancer that occurs in the right colon is known to produce an annoying, dull, and uncharacteristic type of pain similar to what occurs in gallbladder conditions. Bowel cancer growing in an individual's left colon is more likely to feel like trapped gas and severe cramping. Bowel cancer that occurs in the last part of the colon near the rectum is known to produce abdominal pain only in its later stages.
Blood In The Stool
Many bowel cancer patients experience blood in their stool. Many individuals diagnosed with bowel cancer report they had never observed any blood in their stool that could be seen with their naked eye. Darker colored stools that appear to be more grainy than usual can indicate bowel cancer. Bright red streaks of blood in the stool of affected individuals are much less common. For individuals who do notice blood in their stool caused by bowel cancer, the color of the blood is highly indicative of the location of the tumor. Tumors that occur closer to the rectum will present with a dark maroon liquid-like appearance in the stool. Blood from bowel tumors that occur closer to the junction of the small intestine and large intestine will appear as a dark black grainy texture, as it has time to begin to clot and break down before exiting the body.
Bloating caused by bowel cancer can be associated with excessive gas. A healthy person may pass gas up twenty-three times in a single day. Cancer cells in the bowel can produce substances that cause an excessive amount of gas when food is digested. In addition, bowel cancer can spread to nearby lymph nodes and cause them to malfunction. The lymph vessels and lymph nodes are responsible for absorbing and placing fluid back into circulation when it builds up in the tissues. Cancer cells can migrate and invade into the nearby nodes and lymph vessels, causing them to become clogged. With obstructions in the lymph system, the extra fluid cannot be absorbed and put back into circulation properly. This mechanism causes fluid to build up in the tissues of the affected area. When this occurs in an individual's abdomen, it is referred to as ascites, which can make an individual with bowel cancer feel full easily and bloated.
As with many types of cancers, unexplained weight loss in an individual can be a sign of bowel cancer. Weight loss precipitated from an individual's bowel cancer is considered to be a systemic symptom, one that affects their entire body. Unintentional weight loss is best defined as a loss of five percent or greater of an individual's body weight within a duration of six to twelve consecutive months. Bowel cancer can cause weight loss because the cancerous cells that make up the tumor require nutrients to produce energy just like healthy cells do. Because an individual's diet may not be enough to meet the needs of all their healthy cells and the cancerous cells, their body will burn through any fat reserves they have so cells can produce enough energy. which can result in weight loss. In addition, cancer cells can release toxins into an affected individual's body that causes increased metabolism and rapid breakdown of fat stores. Furthermore, the impaired absorption of nutrients in the gastrointestinal system can cause a patient to lose weight.
Extreme And Persistent Fatigue
Cancer occurs when a mutation in the DNA of a cell causes it to grow and multiply out of control. Any cancerous cells in the body can become extremely invasive to the organs as they continue to grow and spread. Bowel cancer is a particularly aggressive type of cancer where the cancerous cells compromise the bowel and can spread to the small intestine and other organs. When cancerous cells invade the small intestine and destroy the lining, the intestine can no longer absorb nutrients like glucose properly. Without enough glucose, the cells around the body are unable to carry out their processes to produce energy or ATP. Additionally, cancerous cells themselves use up the supply of oxygen, glucose, and other nutrients to carry out their malicious processes, leaving nothing left for healthy cells. This shortage of glucose and cellular energy triggers a mechanism in the body where any energy produced is allocated to the tissues that are the most critical for survival, like the heart and lungs. It is this general scarcity and reallocation of cellular energy that makes a bowel cancer patient feel extreme and persistent fatigue.
In bowel cancer, cancerous cells grow and spread in the large intestine, invading and damaging the tissues of its lining and walls. This invasion of cancer cells can cause functional and structural problems in the large intestine, allowing its contents to irritate the damaged tissues further. When the cancerous cells cause damage to the intestinal tissues, they can rupture many of the highly concentrated small blood vessels that supply the intestinal tissues and linings with blood. There is also a high concentration of small blood vessels in the lining of the intestines to facilitate the proper absorption of nutrients and fluids from the food. The damage to these blood vessels causes blood to spill out into the contents of a patient's intestines. Blood in the stool is not reabsorbed, so it will appear as rectal bleeding when the individual has a bowel movement.
Lump In The Abdomen
Bowel cancer occurs when cells that make up the bowel tissues begin to divide and grow out of control. These cancerous cells grow until they form a solid mass or a tumor in the bowel. A tumor in the bowel can cause an individual to be able to see and or feel an abnormal lump in their abdominal area at certain times or with certain circumstances. The stool has to move through the part of the large intestine where the cancerous tumor is located. As the stool moves past this area in the patient's intestine, it can cause the abdomen to protrude outward in an irregular fashion. This lump forms because the intestines expand when stool moves through them in a healthy individual. This expansion is compounded by the solid presence of the cancerous tumor or tumors in an affected individual and produces an abnormal bump or lump in their abdomen.
Urge To Strain Even After A Bowel Movement
An individual who frequently feels the urge to continue straining even after they have had a bowel movement may be affected by bowel cancer. The nerves in the colon and rectum transmit signals to the brain when there is a solid substance that needs to be excreted. The brain sends signals back to the colon and rectum that tell it to hold the stool until the individual is ready to excrete it. Cancer in the bowel eventually grows to the size where it can cause these signals to be sent to the individual's brain inappropriately. The nerves sense the presence of a solid substance in the intestine due to the malignant tumor. A patient may not know if their urge to have a bowel movement is because of stool presence, or if their bowel tumor is the cause of the sensation. The best way patients can determine if they have this symptom is when they feel the urge to have a bowel movement right after they have already had one. Some may even experience the involuntary contraction of the rectal muscles as a result of being unable to distinguish between the urge to strain from stool or the cancerous tumor.
Cancerous cells that grow and invade the bowel tissues can form a solid tumor that produces an obstruction in the large intestine. A partial obstruction can cause the stool to remain in the large intestine for too long. In a healthy individual, the perfect amount of fluid is absorbed from the stool as it moves through the large intestine before it is excreted. However, the large intestine will absorb too much fluid from the individual's stool if it is not excreted in a timely manner because of the partial obstruction by growing tumor cells. Cancerous cells in the bowel can also cause extensive damage to the lining of the large intestine. The lining of the large intestine is specially made to be able to absorb fluid from the stool as it is moving through it. Cancerous cells that cause extensive damage to this specialized lining can reduce the amount of fluid that can be absorbed from the stool. When the stool is too watery due to damage from bowel cancer, the patient will experience diarrhea.