Contributor: Jeffrey Meyerhardt, MD, MPH, is Clinical Director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
While there are slightly more incidences of colorectal cancer in men (71,860 new cases projected in the U.S. in 2014) than women (65,000), both men and women generally exhibit the same symptoms of the disease, explains Dr. Meyerhardt.
“Many patients don’t have symptoms, but they’re diagnosed because they get a screening colonoscopy,” says Dr. Meyerhardt. Common symptoms for patients who do show signs of colon or rectal cancer include blood in the stool, changes in bowel habits, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. Some patients also have symptoms related to anemia, including increased tiredness or shortness of breath, or may be found to be anemic from routine blood work.
The risk factors for colorectal cancer — which include age, family history of the disease, or having Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis — are also similar for men and women, Dr. Meyerhardt says. However, some lifestyle choices also can increase risk. These include obesity, lack of physical activity, low vitamin D, and consuming a high amount of red meat, which may differ between men and women.