The 5 most common signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer

March 20, 2024
cancer ribbon

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in both men and women, and it’s the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States. And while the death rate from colorectal cancer has been decreasing in older adults, it’s actually been increasing in adults younger than 55. As with so many forms of cancer, early detection is crucial for the successful treatment of colorectal cancer, making it essential for individuals to be aware of potential symptoms. While symptoms may vary, understanding the common signs can aid in early diagnosis and better outcomes.

  1. Changes in Bowel Habits: One of the earliest signs of colorectal cancer is a persistent change in bowel habits. This includes experiencing diarrhea, constipation, or a noticeable change in stool consistency (narrower stools).
  2. Blood in the Stool: The presence of blood in the stool, whether it's bright red or dark in color, should never be ignored. While it can be caused by various conditions, including hemorrhoids, colorectal cancer could also be a potential cause.
  3. Abdominal Discomfort: Unexplained abdominal discomfort, cramping, or pain may be indicative of colorectal cancer. Individuals should pay attention to persistent abdominal issues that are not alleviated with typical over-the-counter remedies.
  4. Unintentional Weight Loss: Unintended and unexplained weight loss can be a concerning symptom. Colorectal cancer can lead to weight loss due to a variety of factors, including a decrease in appetite or the body's inability to absorb nutrients efficiently.
  5. Fatigue and Weakness: Persistent fatigue and weakness unrelated to exertion or lack of sleep could be a sign of colorectal cancer. The disease may cause the body to work harder to fight off the cancerous cells, leading to increased fatigue.

Being aware of these potential symptoms is critical for the early detection of colorectal cancer. Regular screenings, especially for those with risk factors, are essential for identifying the disease in its early stages when treatment is most effective. If you experience any of these symptoms, seeking prompt medical advice can make a significant difference in your prognosis and overall outcome.

Dr. Christopher Taylor is a colon and rectal surgeon with CommonSpirit Health at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs, where he’s the director of Colorado’s only Rectal Cancer Center of Excellence. Dr. Taylor specializes in benign and malignant pathology of the colon, rectum and anus. Learn more about Dr. Taylor, and schedule an appointment, at