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Similarities and differences between the symptoms of rectal cancer and colon cancer

 Similarities and differences between the symptoms of rectal cancer and colon cancer

Similarities and differences between the symptoms of rectal cancer and colon cancer

Colon cancer and rectal cancer are two types of cancers that occur in the intestines. While colon cancer affects the large intestine, rectal cancer occurs in the rectum. These malignant tumors are referred to as colorectal cancer. Both cancers share similar symptoms, making diagnosis difficult. Accurate identification aids in rapid treatment and preventative measures, leading to improved outcomes and reduced risk of complications. This article discusses the similarities and differences between rectal cancer and colon cancer symptoms, diagnosis, and more.

Colon cancer affects the colon, which is also known as the large intestine and forms the first part of the large intestine. On the other hand, rectal cancer affects the rectum, which begins at the end of the last part of the colon and extends to the last part of the large intestine.

Who gets these cancers?

According to the American Cancer Society, your risk of developing colorectal cancer increases as you get older, and it is most common in individuals age 50 or older. However, colorectal cancer is increasingly being diagnosed in people younger than 50.

Common symptoms

According to a 2023 study, common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal bleeding.
  • Pain in the rectum.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Anemia due to iron deficiency.

Both cancers show other symptoms as well. “Both cancers also commonly present with symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, weight loss, bowel changes, and loss of appetite,” says Nathan Goodyear, MD, PhD(H), a board-certified oncologist based in Scottsdale, Arizona. "And fatigue."

Colon cancer versus rectal cancer symptoms

Understanding the distinct symptoms of colorectal cancer is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. “Right-sided colon cancers (that occur on the right side) from the abdomen) often bleed more than those from other places.” “Left-sided cancers (which occur on the left side of the abdomen) and rectal cancer can often cause an obstruction, leading to changes in bowel movements,” Dr. Eldredge adds.

How do both cancers occur?

Colorectal cancer often begins as polyps in the colon or rectum. While most polyps are benign, some can develop into cancer over the years. Adenomatous polyps, especially tubular polyps, pose a higher risk. Factors such as size, number, and histology affect the likelihood of a tumor developing into cancer.

Diagnosing colon cancer versus rectal cancer

Before confirming a diagnosis of colon or rectal cancer, your doctor may want to rule out various conditions. Your doctor may perform tests to rule out diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, ileus, and Ischemic bowel, anal fissures/tears, small bowel cancer, and lymphoma have symptoms similar to those of both cancers. After ruling out these conditions, your doctor will take steps to confirm the suspicion. Here's a typical outline of the procedure:

1. Your doctor may perform a colonoscopy to examine the colon and rectum for any abnormalities using a flexible tube equipped with a camera.

2. Tissue samples or biopsies will be taken for analysis if suspicious areas are found.

3.If cancer is detected, the tissue will be sent to a specialized laboratory where pathologists (experts who analyze blood and body tissue) will analyze it for cancer cells.

4. Your doctor will discuss your diagnosis and treatment options based on the biopsy results. Additionally, for colon cancer, your doctor may check for low levels of red blood cells, which may indicate bleeding from colon cancer.

5.For rectal cancer, your doctor may perform a proctoscopy, in which a proctoscope — a device equipped with a camera — is inserted into the rectum to closely examine the lining of the rectum.

Who treats colorectal cancer?

You may be treated by a variety of doctors, each of whom specializes in different aspects of your care. Here are the ones you might encounter:

1.Gastroenterologist: This doctor focuses on treating disorders related to the digestive system.

2.Surgical oncologist: If surgery is part of your treatment plan, this specialist will be the one who performs it to target and remove cancerous tissue.

3.Colorectal surgeon: Like a surgical oncologist, this doctor specializes in surgical treatments specifically for diseases affecting the colon and rectum.

4. Radiation oncologist: If radiation therapy is recommended to treat cancer, this specialist will supervise the procedure and make sure you get the appropriate treatment.

5. Medical oncologist: This doctor specializes in treating cancer using medications such as chemotherapy or targeted therapy, which are administered to attack cancer cells.

Preventing rectal cancer and colon cancer 

Making healthy lifestyle choices can help you prevent colorectal cancer. The National Cancer Institute recommends:

1. Exercise for at least 30 minutes daily.

2. Maintain your weight in a healthy range to achieve optimal health.

3. Avoid or quit smoking.

Understanding the similarities and differences between rectal cancer symptoms and colon cancer symptoms underscores the importance of understanding an individual's unique risk factors.