In some cases, rectal cancer presents with early symptoms, whereas in other cases, patients do not experience any symptoms until the disease reaches its advanced stages. It is important not to ignore any symptoms that could indicate the presence of a tumor in the rectum.
Being able to recognize the common symptoms of rectal cancer can help catch it in its early stages and receive appropriate treatment.
The following are some common signs and symptoms of rectal cancer:
A change in bowel habits is one of the early symptoms of rectal cancer. Patients often begin experiencing sudden changes in their bowel movements. These changed bowel habits are persistent and may not go away with medication.
Blood in the stool and rectal bleeding are also early symptoms of rectal cancer. The tumor irritates the rectum lining, which in turn leads to bleeding. Another reason why rectal bleeding occurs is because the tumor makes the blood vessels fragile. Usually, bleeding happens after bowel movements; however, it can happen at other times, too.
Rectal tumors cause obstruction and narrowing of the rectum, which leads to thin, pencil-like stools. This is one of the most important symptoms of rectal cancer.
Those with rectal cancer often experience a sensation of incomplete bowel emptying after their bowel movements. This happens because of the presence of a tumor in the rectum.
Rectal cancer patients often experience pain, cramping, and
discomfort in their lower abdomen.
It is one of the rectal tumor symptoms often ignored, as abdominal pain is caused by other less serious health problems, too. If the pain lasts for more than two weeks, one should see a doctor for a proper evaluation.
One of the important signs of rectal cancer is unintentional weight loss, which happens for no apparent reason.
Generalized weakness or fatigue is also one of the crucial
symptoms of rectal cancer. Those suspected of having rectal cancer will feel
exhausted even after resting adequately.
Most of the signs and symptoms of rectal cancer discussed above are the same as those of other less serious GI problems. Therefore, it is important not to panic and to promptly see a doctor for a definitive diagnosis.
We do not have enough information on the exact causes of rectal cancer. However, we do know that certain lifestyle and non-lifestyle factors can contribute to an increased risk of rectal cancer.
Having these risk factors does not guarantee a rectal cancer diagnosis. It only means that those having these risk factors have a higher chance of developing this condition.
The following are possible causes of rectal cancer:
Increasing age is one of the biggest risk factors for rectal cancer. Those between the ages of 55 and 64 have a higher chance of developing cancer of the rectum.
Rectal cancer is found to be more common in men than women. There are various reasons for this.
Lifestyle habits, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating highly processed foods, which are relatively more common among Indian men, make men more susceptible to rectal cancer.
Studies show that estrogen has a protective effect against rectal cancer. Men have lower estrogen levels, making them more susceptible to rectal cancer.
Men tend to pay a little less attention to their health when compared to women. So, the chances are high for them to ignore the early signs of rectal cancer. This may lead to a delayed diagnosis and a poor prognosis.
African Americans are found to have the highest risk of developing rectal cancer. Asians, on the other hand, have a lower risk of developing rectal cancer. Various factors, such as food habits, genetics, and other lifestyle and non-lifestyle factors, have contributed to the increased or decreased risk of developing rectal cancer across various ethnic groups.
A positive family history of rectal cancer is one of the possible causes of rectal cancer. Certain inherited genetic syndromes, namely Lynch syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), juvenile polyposis, and Cowden syndrome, can cause the formation of multiple polyps in the rectum and lead to rectal cancer formation.
Having certain GI-related issues can be one of the possible causes of rectal cancer. These GI issues increase rectal cancer risk by causing chronic inflammation. The following gastrointestinal disorders may increase one’s risk of developing rectal cancer
Inflammatory bowel syndrome, or disease, is a collective term given to inflammatory diseases of the GI tract. IBD is characterized by rectal bleeding, loose stools, abdominal pain, etc. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two main bowel-related inflammatory diseases.
Crohn’s disease is a form of chronic inflammatory bowel disorder. Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract; however, it most commonly affects the small intestine and colon. This disease spreads to deeper layers of the bowel wall.
Crohn’s disease can lead to the formation of ulcers, fissures, and abscesses. Crohn’s disease, if left untreated, can increase one’s risk of developing rectal cancer.
Ulcerative colitis is another form of inflammatory bowel syndrome in which chronic inflammation is seen in the colon and rectum. Unlike Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis limits itself to the inner lining of the colon and rectum.
This condition can cause ulcer formation and rectal bleeding, and if left untreated, it can increase the risk of rectal cancer.
Smoking damages the cells that line the rectum and causes damage to their DNA structure. This leads to abnormal cell division and tumor formation. Also, smoking causes inflammation in the rectal cavity. This makes smoking one of the possible causes of rectal cancer.
Eating highly processed meat leads to increased rectal cancer risk. This is because processed meat contains chemicals that are classified as carcinogens. These chemicals can cause damage to the DNA structure and trigger tumor formation in the rectum.
Obesity contributes to increased rectal cancer risk by causing chronic inflammation in the body. Another way it increases cancer risk is by altering the gut microbiome.
The signs of rectal cancer are almost identical among men and women. The presence and absence of symptoms of rectal cancer in males or females and their severity may vary from one patient to another. Also, some rectal tumor symptoms are similar to those of other less serious GI conditions; therefore, it is important to not ignore any GI symptoms and diligently see a doctor for a proper evaluation.
It is important to see a doctor if you are experiencing rectal tumor symptoms like rectal bleeding, blood in stools, changes in bowel habits, and persistent abdominal pain. Despite looking like the signs and symptoms of rectal cancer, these symptoms could indicate other GI conditions, and therefore, you need to see a doctor for a definitive diagnosis.