According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer, and the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths, in both women and men. Though the risk is slightly lower for women than men, about one in 25 U.S. women are at risk for developing this cancer.
Colon cancer starts as a tiny growth in the inner wall of the colon. These growths are called polyps. While they are usually benign (non-cancerous), when a cancerous polyp does form, cancer cells can move into the lining of the colon or rectum and spread, often entering the bloodstream and lymph system.
In its early stages, colon cancer may have no noticeable symptoms. When they do occur, signs of colon cancer in women tend to be the same as those seen in men, and can include:
• constipation, diarrhea, or other changes in bowel habits
• blood in your stool or rectal bleeding
• abdominal pain or cramps
• a sensation that your bowel hasn’t emptied completely
• unexplained weight loss
• fatigue, weakness, or reduced energy level
Some signs of colon cancer may be easy to mistake for symptoms related to your menstrual cycle. For example, feeling unusually tired or lacking energy are common symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). These are also symptoms of anemia, which you may experience if you lose a lot of blood during your menstrual period. Likewise, abdominal cramps associated with colon cancer may be mistaken for menstrual cramps or symptoms of endometriosis.
It’s important to talk to your doctor if you regularly experience fatigue or abdominal pain that’s not related to your menstrual cycle, or if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms related to colon cancer.
Once a woman turns 50, a colonoscopy or Cologuard, a non-invasive stool-DNA screening test approved by the FDA, should be included as part of your well woman exam. Some individuals who are high-risk for colon cancer may need to begin screening at an earlier age.
We’re here to listen, and we’re here to help. Remember, detected early, colon cancer is treatable.