Warning Signs of Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer often has no warning signs. Because of this, your doctor will recommend regular screening with fecal occult blood tests (to check for blood in your stool) and colonoscopy (see "Diagnostic Procedures," page 282). However, if you experience any of the following symptoms, see your doctor immediately:

  • changes in bowel movements—diarrhea or constipation that last for several days, stool that appears narrower than usual, or a feeling that your bowels are not completely empty after a bowel movement
  • blood in the stool—red-streaked or black, tarry stools
  • abdominal pain—persistent pain, cramps, or tenderness in the lower abdomen
  • unexplained weight loss—losing weight without trying to
  • fatigue—feeling tired without a specific cause, which may indicate internal bleeding or anemia

Common

Health

Concerns

Treatment for colon cancer depends on how far the cancer has advanced and may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy (treatment with powerful anticancer drugs), or some combination of these. Surgical removal of the tumor and surrounding colon and lymph tissue is the most common treatment for colon cancer. After the cancerous section of the colon has been removed, the healthy sections are reconnected. In some cases the surgeon may perform a colostomy (see box on next page) to provide an outlet for feces. If the tumor is large, you may need to undergo radiation therapy before surgery to help shrink the tumor. Radiation therapy also may be used after surgery to ensure that all the cancerous cells have been killed.

If the surgeon is not sure that all the cancer has been removed, or if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body, you will need to undergo chemotherapy or 275

possibly immunotherapy, in which your body's immune system is stimulated to Digestive destroy cancer cells. System

Chemotherapy drugs may be given orally or intravenously. Several different types of drugs may be given simultaneously. You may need to be hospitalized during the first few days of treatment and then continue the treatment on your own at home. Chemotherapy usually is administered in cycles. For example, you may take the drugs for several weeks, stop taking the drugs for several weeks, and then repeat this cycle. Your doctor will explain the risks, advantages, and side effects of these therapies. Some people benefit from participating in a support group, which allows them to share information and experiences with others who are in a similar situation. Ask your doctor to recommend a support group in your area.

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