ZocdocAnswersWhat are the signs of rectal cancer?

Question

What are the signs of rectal cancer?

A month ago, I began to notice blood in my stool, and it hasn't stopped. I'm 24, and I'm a woman. Maybe I'm overreacting, but I'm worried it could be rectal cancer. What are the other signs and symptoms of rectal cancer?

Answer

Bloody stools can have many different causes and the specialists involved in the diagnosis are internists, gastroentereologists and general surgeons. Blood in the stool can have many causes including cancer, ulcers, inflammation, polyps and more commonly in young people anal fissures and hemorrhoids. People younger than 40 years old with minimal bleeding and without a family history are at low risk of colorectal cancer; however, an unusual presentation of bleeding, a family history of colorectal cancer and/or persistent bleeding do warrant a more thorough evaluation. Often this will include a procedure to look at the colon, rectum and anus such as a colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy or anoscopy. To more specifically answer your question, the majority of patients presenting with symptomatic colorectal cancer have bloody stools, abdominal pain, change in bowel habits and/or an unexplained iron deficiency anemia on their labs. Patients can also present with weakness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, weight loss and anemia without any other gastrointestinal symptoms. There are specific symptoms that doctors look for that are considered "alarm symptoms" These include weight loss, dark red rectal bleeding and an abdominal mass. More unusual presentations of colorectal cancer include fevers without a specific cause, blood stream infections with bacteria that is found in the colon and urine that looks contaminated with feces. It is not possible to come to a diagnosis without examining the patient. The strong recommendation is therefore to get a referral to a gastroenterologist and get evaluated in person.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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