There are few things in the body as complex as our digestive system, which makes the symptoms of colon cancer—also known as colorectal cancer—difficult to catch. Many early signs of colorectal cancer are easily confused with irritable bowel syndrome or a digestive infection. And yet colorectal cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related death for both men and women in the United States.

The following symptoms of colorectal cancer could be caused by other illnesses, but if many of these describe you, it’s worth visiting a gastroenterologist who can help pinpoint the source.

1) Your Bowel Habits Change

Bowel movements fluctuate for a variety of reasons, many of them minor. However, if you are experiencing a permanent change in your bowel movements that has lasted more than a few days, this could be a sign of a more permanent health complication like colorectal cancer.

2) You Experience Bloating and Cramps

While cramps and bloating could be the sign of several health complications–or just your last meal–chronic bloating and cramps are a sign that something in your digestive system is struggling to operate as it should, which is always worth checking out.

3) Feeling as Though Your Bowels Are Still Full

One potential sign of colorectal cancer is feeling as though your bowels are never entirely emptied. Even after going to the restroom, you immediately feel as though you need to go again.

4) Blood in Your Stool

Seeing blood in your stool is alarming, whether it’s streaks of bright red blood or the stool having a darker, tarry appearance. Often the cause of bright red blood is hemorrhoids or another, less mild malady; however, this is always a sign you should schedule a doctor’s visit to pinpoint the problem. Blood should never be ignored. Don’t assume the cause is hemorrhoids–see your doctor immediately.

5) Dramatic, Unexplained Weight Loss

Unexpected weight loss is one of the leading signs of colorectal cancer. Not only are cancer cells consuming the body’s energy, the immune system is working overtime to fight the cancer off. If there is a tumor, it could be creating bowel changes that exacerbate the weight loss. Most people are aware of their normal weight fluctuations. Experiencing dramatic weight loss, combined with some or all of the above symptoms, is a clear sign from your body that it’s time to get checked out.

6) Fatigue

Everyone feels lethargic some days, but chronic fatigue doesn’t go away with rest. It’s often caused by the body’s immune system working hard to fight an illness off and, in the case of colorectal cancer, the fatigue of strained bowel movements.

How Can I Prevent Colorectal Cancer?

You can take an active role in preventing colorectal cancer, including simple lifestyle changes. Adjust your diet so that you consume foods that are high in fiber and low in fat. Stop smoking and reduce your alcohol intake. Exercise for a minimum of 20 minutes at least three times each week. All of these steps will help you be more healthy overall and may prevent a future cancer diagnosis.

The most effective way to ward off colorectal cancer is a regular colonoscopy. A colonoscopy accomplishes two important tasks. First, it detects cancer early, at a stage that is treatable. The American Cancer Society says the five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed with stage 1 colon or rectal cancer is 92% and 88%. This compares with the five-year survival rate of 12% for those diagnosed in stage 4. Second, a colonoscopy can detect and remove the presence of precancerous polyps before they develop into cancer. Yes, a colonoscopy can PREVENT colon cancer before it starts! So to take control of your long-term health by scheduling a colonoscopy at Cary Gastroenterology today. Let us help you prevent colorectal cancer.