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Colorectal Cancer Screening

How is colorectal cancer diagnosed?

Colorectal cancer is normally diagnosed after the symptoms appear. However, in most people colorectal cancer doesn’t present any symptoms in its early stages. Symptoms are observable only in the advanced stages of colorectal cancer. For this reason, it is advisable to get screening tests before any symptoms develop. If it is detected early, the prognosis will be better and treatment more effective.

Colorectal Cancer Symptoms

Colorectal cancer may present one or more of the following symptoms. If you observe any of the following, you should report to your doctor for further screening.

Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer

1. Change in bowel habits, diarrhea, constipation and thinning of stools

2. A feeling of bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so

3. Presence of blood in the stool, dark stools or rectal bleeding

4. Abdominal pain

5. Weakness and fatigue

6. Abnormal weight loss

Many of these symptoms may also beĀ  indicative of other conditions such as infections, hemorrhoids or irritable bowel syndrome. However, if you experience any of these symptoms it is important that you see your doctor immediately so that the cause of these symptoms can be found and treated.

Medical history and physical exam

If you have symptoms indicative of colorectal cancer, your doctor will take a complete medical history to evaluate symptoms and risk factors. Your family history may also be considered.

Your doctor will carefully feel your abdomen for masses and also examine other parts of your body. Your doctor may also perform a digital rectal exam. During this test, a lubricated, gloved finger is inserted into the rectum to feel for abnormal areas.

Blood tests

Your doctor may also perform blood tests to determine if you have colorectal cancer or to monitor the disease if you have been diagnosed with cancer.

Complete blood count (CBC): This test determines if you have anemia. Anemia is a common symptom of colorectal cancer. It is caused due to loss of blood in the stools.

Liver enzymes: A blood test may be performed to check the liver function. Colorectal cancer can spread to the liver.

Tumor markers: Colorectal cancer cells synthesize chemicals such as carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and CA 19-9 which are released into the bloodstream. Blood tests for these markers are used along with other tests to monitor colorectal cancer. These tests can determine how well the treatment is working. It can also provide an early warning if the cancer cells have returned.

Tumor markers cannot be used to diagnose colorectal cancer because the test cannot determine if the person has cancer or not. In some people with ulcerative colitis or other types of liver disease or lung disease, tumor markers may be observed. Smoking also raises CEA levels.

Imaging tests

Imaging tests used to diagnose colorectal cancer include computed tomography, ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, chest x-ray and positron emission tomography. Angiography may also be used to diagnose colorectal cancer.

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