Dr. Meghana Raghavendra, a board-certified oncologist with Franciscan Physician Network Oncology & Hematology Specialists, specializes in gastrointestinal malignancies, breast cancer and lymphoma. She answers your questions about what to do when you find blood in your stool or in the toilet.
Q. I've had several instances of blood appearing in my stool. I assumed it was just hemorrhoids but I'm worried it might be something more serious. What would cause this?
A: Seeing blood on the toilet tissue or in the toilet bowl can be alarming. You may be right that it could be caused by hemorrhoids, but it's best to get things checked out by your doctor.
Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related death in men and the third-leading cause in women. However, it is highly preventable, and even curable, when detected early, often through use of a screening colonoscopy. Colonoscopy provides a thorough examination of your entire colon through use of a long, flexible tube equipped with a camera.
Colon cancer can occur in any part of the colon and most colorectal cancers begin as polyps that grow on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. These growths spread very slowly, taking several years to become cancerous.
What are the Early Signs Of Colon Cancer?
Some of the first signs and symptoms of colon cancer may include:
- Bleeding from the rectum or blood in the stool
- Changes in bowel habits, such as increased diarrhea or constipation, or changes in stool consistency. Any changes that persist longer than four weeks should be checked out.
- Changes in stool caliber
- Cramping, gas or pain in the abdomen
- A feeling that the bowel is not completely emptying
- Unexplained weight loss
- Fatigue or weakness
Some people with colon cancer never experience any symptoms of disease in the early stages. Symptoms may also vary based on the size of the tumor or its location.
Am I At Higher Risk for Colorectal Cancer?
Most cases of colorectal cancer occur in men and women over age 50. Even if you have no family history of colorectal cancer, an unhealthy lifestyle can increase your risk of developing the disease. Some common risk factors for colorectal cancer include:
- Age (50 years old or older)
- Previous colorectal cancer
- A history of adenomatous polyps
- A high-fat diet
- Prolonged consumption of red and processed meat
- Heavy use of alcohol
- Inflammatory bowel disease, such as Chron's disease and ulcerative colitis
- Previous endometrial or ovarian cancer
- Undergoing radiation for gynecologic cancer
Making lifestyle changes - especially eating less red meat and more fruits, vegetables and fiber, losing weight, quitting smoking and getting more exercise, may help prevent the disease, even in people with a family history.
(Read Let's Talk About Colon Cancer Screening.)
What If I Have Colorectal Cancer?
If colorectal cancer is diagnosed, the prognosis depends on how much the cancer has spread. The treatment for colorectal cancer typically involves surgery to remove the part of the colon that contains the tumor. Depending on the stage of the cancer, surgery is followed by chemotherapy.
Want More Information?
Get the facts about colonoscopy. Download a free guide or watch a video from one of our experts as they discuss the facts about the screening and its importance in preventing and detecting colorectal cancer in its early stages.