Symptoms of Colon Cancer in Women

Some early signs may be confused with digestive or menstrual issues

Symptoms of colon cancer in women include diarrhea, constipation, unintended weight loss, and bloody stools. While these are the same for anyone with colon cancer, symptoms in women may be misattributed to digestive disorders that affect them more often than men.

Some more subtle symptoms of colon cancer in women may also be mistaken for gynecological or menstrual issues.

This article reviews the symptoms of colon cancer in women and discusses risk factors to be aware of. It also explains the importance of colon cancer screenings and when you may need to see a healthcare provider.

Colon Cancer in Women

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Common Symptoms of Colon Cancer in Women

Not every woman experiences early symptoms of colon cancer. Symptoms that do occur can vary depending on the size and location of the cancer.

Possible symptoms of colon cancer include:

You should discuss any symptoms with your healthcare provider, especially if you have risk factors like a family history of colon cancer.

Advanced-Stage Symptoms

If left undiagnosed, colon cancer can lead to complications and serious symptoms.

These include:

Confusion With Gynecological Issues

Some of the symptoms of colon cancer in women that may be mistaken for normal symptoms of menstruation or other gynecological issues include:

  • Changes to bowel habits, diarrhea, and constipation that are also common during menstruation
  • Abdominal cramping that could be mistaken for menstrual cramps
  • Feelings of tiredness that could be dismissed as being due to premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

The median age of diagnosis of colon cancer in females is 71, compared with 67 in males. When you include rectal cancer, the median age is 69 for females and 66 for males.

Though colon cancer is more likely to affect older people who are no longer menstruating, the number of people under age 50 who are diagnosed with colorectal cancer is on the rise.

Between 2012 and 2016, the incidence of colorectal cancer increased by 2% every year in those younger than 50, and 1% every year in those ages 50 to 64.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Any changes to bowel habits, bleeding from the rectum, blood in the stools, abdominal discomfort, and unintended weight loss are all symptoms that should be discussed with your healthcare provider.

If you have risk factors for colon cancer, discuss colon cancer screening options with your healthcare provider.

Colon Cancer Screening

The American Cancer Society recommends that women and men with an average risk for colon cancer begin regular colon cancer screening at the age of 45. For those with risk factors like a family history of colon cancer, your healthcare provider may advise beginning screening earlier.

Screening allows healthcare providers to find colon cancer even if a person isn’t experiencing symptoms. Colon cancer often begins with abnormal growths in the colon called polyps.

Screening tests, like colonoscopy, can find these polyps before they become cancerous. This allows your healthcare provider, typically a gastroenterology specialist, to remove them before they become an issue. Regular screening also allows healthcare providers to find cancer in the colon early when treatments are most effective.

Even if you are under the recommended age for screening, your healthcare provider may advise you to begin regular screening due to your risk factors.

Female Colon Cancer Survival Rate

Statistics from the United Kingdom show a 77.1% survival rate at one year after a bowel (colorectal) cancer diagnosis for females. That drops to 58.6% at five years and 53.8% at 10 years. For all people in the U.S., the 5-year survival rate for people with colorectal cancer is 65%. Keep in mind that prognosis also depends on the cancer stage at diagnosis and other factors.

Risk Factors

There are a number of risk factors that may increase the chance of developing colon cancer. If you have any of these risk factors, you should discuss options with your healthcare provider.

Risk factors for colon cancer fall into two categories: those that can be changed and those that can’t.

Risk factors that can be changed include lifestyle-related factors, such as:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being sedentary and not exercising regularly
  • Eating diet high in red meat or processed meats
  • Being low in vitamin D
  • Smoking
  • Using alcohol, even light to moderate use

Some risk factors, however, cannot be changed. These include:

The lifetime risk for colorectal cancer for people with Lynch syndrome might be as high as 50%, depending on the genes impacted. Women with Lynch syndrome are also at a very high risk for cancer in the endometrium (lining of the uterus).  

Whether you have risk factors you can modify through lifestyle changes or risk factors that are beyond your control, it is important to discuss your risk and any symptoms with your healthcare provider.

Hormone Replacement Therapy

Studies have shown that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause can lower the risk of colorectal cancers in women, though this is still under investigation. The decision to begin HRT should not be based just on the risk of colon cancer. Taking estrogen and progesterone after menopause can increase a woman’s risk for a variety of diseases as well as lung and breast cancer. You should discuss the benefits and risks of HRT with your healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

Symptoms of colon cancer in women may be similar to those associated with menstruation or other digestive disorders, so it will help you to know them. Speak with your healthcare provider if you have concerns, and follow recommendations for colon cancer screenings. You'll also want to consider lifestyle changes that may lower your risk.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does stage 1 colon cancer have symptoms?

    At stage 1, a colon cancer has not yet grown deeply into nearby tissues or metastasized (spread) to lymph nodes. Early symptoms are likely and include bowel habit changes, blood in the stool, and unexplained weight loss.

  • Does colon cancer cause back pain?

    Colon cancer can cause lower back pain, although it is more often associated with abdominal pain and cramping.

  • How long can you live with untreated colon cancer?

    There's no way to know. Some studies have shown that people with hallmark colon cancer symptoms have a much poorer prognosis when a diagnosis is delayed more than three months.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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