Colon cancer is one of the commonest malignancy in men and women all over the globe. Although, men are more commonly affected, women also are prone to the disease.
Symptoms of Early Stage Colon Cancer in Women
Early stage colon cancer in women may present with one or more of the following symptoms as described below-
Change in bowel habits
Change in bowel habits may present in the form of constipation or diarrhea. Either one of them may be present or constipation may alternate with diarrhea. When the obstructive symptom is predominant due to a large intraluminal growth of the tumor, it usually presents as constipation. It is more commonly seen with left sided or distant colonic tumors. Whereas, excessive secretory activity or bleeding may lead to diarrhea.
Blood in Stools
Blood in stools is often the presenting symptom, but sometimes it may go unnoticed when present in small quantities. It may present as red colour stools, due to mixing of fresh blood with stools. Sometimes, in case of distal colon tumors, it may present as passage of blood after passing stools. Rarely, black coloured stools may be seen, especially in the case of proximally located tumors.
Abdominal Pain or Discomfort
Abdominal discomfort or pain may occur due to intestinal obstruction due to colon cancer. This may also occur due to impacted stools that cause constipation. Increased bowel motility and peristalsis may cause cramping and abdominal pain in such cases.
Unexplained Weight Loss
Reduction in appetite due to abdominal fullness, bloating, nausea and/or vomiting may cause weight loss. Also, malabsorption of food may play a significant role.
Symptoms of Advanced Stage Colon Cancer in Women
When colon cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it is called as stage 4 or metastatic disease. The symptoms depend on the site of metastasis in such cases.
- Abdominal Distension due to ascitis or fluid collection in the abdomen, secondary to peritoneal spread of the tumor.
- Breathlessness and/or Cough may be present due to spread of cancer to lungs or pleura.
- Back pain due to bone metastasis involving spine or vertebrae.
- Jaundice or yesllowish discoloration of eyes ane/or urine when cancer spreads to liver
- Altered sensorium, seizures and/or weakness in arms and/or legs due to spread to brain.
Gynecological vs Colorectal Symptoms in Women
In women, some menstrual symptoms such as lower abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort may be confused with colonic symptoms. But these are usually short lived in case of gynecological issues and are not associated with other bowel symptoms as discussed above. But these should be discussed with your gynecologist or primary care physician.
Colon Cancer vs Ovarian Cancer Symptoms
Symptoms of lower abdominal pain or discomfort, flatulence/dyspepsia, decreased appetite and/or weight loss in women may also be an indicator of ovarian cancer. This is more so when such symptoms are seen in postmenopausal women. These may easily be confused with other non-specific conditions like constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease or colon cancer.
Sometimes, it is not possible clinically to differentiate between these, especailly, if classical bowel symptoms of colon cancer are absent. So it is important to contact your primary care physician timely and undergo further investigations, if deemed necessary.