Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on June 15, 2020. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Although colon cancer (also referred to as colorectal cancer) can develop at any age in adults, it typically affects women and men who are age 50+, who have an increased risk of developing colon cancer. Among women, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 25. It can cause a number of different signs and symptoms—so read through the list below if you’d like to find out more about the possible signs and symptoms of colon cancer in women. (You’ll also learn more about colon cancer screening—something you can do at home with the Everlywell FIT Colon Cancer Screening Test.)
It’s always important to pay attention to rectal bleeding (and alert your healthcare provider that you’re experiencing this), which can be caused by a number of possible factors—including hemorrhoids, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis. Rectal bleeding can also be a sign of colorectal cancer, especially if it’s bright or dark red in color. You may not always see blood in your stool, however— and in some cases, the stool might just look darker than usual or completely normal.
Anemia caused by an iron deficiency is one of the possible signs of colon cancer in women. Colon cancer can result in iron deficiency anemia through blood loss during large bowel movements and reduced gut absorption of dietary sources of iron.
In general, iron deficiency anemia doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms. In some cases, however, symptoms may include pallor (more pale-looking skin), fatigue, and shortness of breath.
Bowel habit changes that may indicate colon cancer include narrow, ribbon-like stools; more frequent bowel movements; and looser stool. These symptoms aren't always indicative of cancer, so it's important to get tested to determine whether the changes are being caused by colon cancer or IBS, for example, which can have similar bowel symptoms.
Tenesmus is a recurring, often painful urge to defecate—but no (or very little) stool passes. This is another one of the potential symptoms of colon cancer in women.
Abdominal pain, bloating, and nausea are also potential signs of colon cancer in females. These possible colon cancer symptoms can occur after you eat and can be so uncomfortable that they cause a reduction in food intake (and eventual weight loss).
Those occasional feelings of weakness and fatigue happen to us all. But if you’re often exhausted, even when you’ve gotten enough shut-eye, it’s worth bringing this up to your healthcare provider as this may be a sign of a health condition—including colon cancer.
Sudden and unexplained weight loss is another symptom of colon cancer in women. So if you notice a sudden dip in the scale—and you’re not intentionally trying to lose weight—discuss this symptom with your healthcare provider. It may be an indicator of colon cancer or some other health condition that you as a patient should be treated for.
When cancerous growths metastasize—spreading to other areas of the body—patients may experience various symptoms. Here’s a list of some possible symptoms based on the part of the body that the cancer has spread to.
When bones are affected, signs may include fractures, pain, constipation, or high calcium levels. It’s rare, however, for colon cancer to spread to one’s bones.
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath—as well as coughing, pain, and fatigue—are possible symptoms when colon cancer has spread to one’s lungs.
When the liver is affected, colorectal cancer symptoms may include fever, fatigue, anorexia, abdominal pain, a change in bowel movement, weight loss, and blood in stool.
Bloating, a swollen belly, and a loss of appetite are among the possible colorectal cancer symptoms one may experience when colon cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
Colon cancer symptoms may include headache, vertigo, blurred vision, and hemiparesis (paralysis or muscle weakness occurring on one side of the body).
Colorectal cancer typically develops from precancerous growths in the colon—known as “colorectal polyps”—which can often be detected with colorectal cancer screening tests. Once a colon polyp is identified, they can be removed to prevent colorectal cancer.
When should you get a colorectal cancer screening? This largely depends on one’s age. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends routine bowel cancer screening every year for women and men in the 50-75 age range (for those at average risk). This is because colon cancer risk is particularly high for people in this age range compared to younger populations.
Related: Who is at risk for colon cancer?
Screening tests can include a colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, or fecal occult blood test (FOBT) such as a fecal immunochemical test (FIT). Fortunately, bowel cancer screening can be done from the comfort and privacy of home with our at-home colon cancer screening test. Simple sample collection and results you can easily share with your healthcare provider make this a convenient option for routine screenings.