Colorectal Cancer or Something Else? How to Tell

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Courtesy of DHR Health

By: Dr. S. Murthy Badiga, DHR Health Gastroenterology

Colorectal cancer can mimic a lot of other common, but, less serious GI (gastrointestinal) disorders such as hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Intestinal infections or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is a collective term for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Many of these GI disorders including IBS (also called spastic colon), diverticulitis (inflammation of diverticula which are pouches that form as we age) and IBD can cause abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea and constipation or a combination there of.

Additionally, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease can cause weight loss and bloody or black stools. Hemorrhoidal bleeding tends to be bright red in color and small in volume – usually only on the toilet tissue and sometimes in the toilet, but, occasionally can be large.

Colorectal cancer can be the source of any of these symptoms, but, there are a few significant differences.

So, What is the Difference?

Colorectal cancer in the early stages may not cause any symptoms at all and the symptoms start appearing later on when the disease has grown and/or spread elsewhere in the body. The key to the symptoms of colorectal cancer is that they are unrelenting and persist for more than a few days.
The symptoms and signs to watch out for in colorectal cancer are:

  • Blood in stool or on the toilet tissue
  • Constipation or diarrhea or stool that is thinner/narrower than usual
  • A feeling of incomplete bowel movement
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Feeling weak and tired (anemia)
  • Weight loss without trying

Most colorectal cancers start out as polyps; small, benign growths in the intestine, taking several years to become malignant. Colorectal cancer screening by colonoscopy involves finding and removing these polyps and thus preventing cancers from developing.

When to See the Doctor?

Increasingly, experts recommend getting screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 45. Patients with longstanding IBD have a higher risk and need to be screened sooner and more frequently. Similarly, family history or personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps necessitates earlier and more frequent evaluation.

If you are experiencing symptoms, it is prudent to make an appointment with your doctor to figure out if they could be caused by colorectal cancer or another GI disorder. Your primary care doctor may refer you to a specialist called gastroenterologist. These doctors have training and expertise in diagnosing GI disorders and colorectal cancer.

If you would like more information or to schedule an appointment for a screening, please call the DHR Health Gastroenterology Institute at (956) 362-3636.

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