Bowel cancer, or colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that starts in the rectum or colon. Bowel cancer can cause a variety of symptoms in females, many of which can go unnoticed.

When the cancer first begins, a person may experience mild and indistinct signs or symptoms. As the cancer progresses, the symptoms can become more obvious.

Females have a 1 in 25-lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer, while males have a 1 in 23-lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer. Despite the slight difference in lifetime risk, it is the third most common cancer in any sex.

This article reviews the signs and symptoms of colorectal (bowel) cancer in females.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Symptoms do not vary much between sexes.

Colorectal cancer also does not cause symptoms in all people. When they do present, they can resemble the symptoms of several other conditions.

The only way to know for sure if a person has colorectal cancer is to get screenings.

People with average risk factors should get screening starting at age 45. However, a person should let their doctor know if they have any of the following signs and symptoms as they could indicate the presence of colorectal cancer.

Stages I and II

Catching colorectal cancer is not always easy to do in the earlier stages.

The reasons for this include:

  • symptoms or signs often do not present until the cancer is in later stages
  • symptoms, when they do present, may be mistaken for other conditions

Two of the more common symptoms in early-stage colorectal cancer include:

In some cases, a person may also experience some other signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer. These can include:

  • fatigue
  • abdominal or rectal pain
  • discolored stool, black, tarry stool or blood in stool
  • weight loss

Stages III and IV

In later stages of colorectal cancer, it is more common to experience symptoms compared to earlier stages.

Some common symptoms of stages III and IV can include persistent:

Other possible symptoms of colorectal cancer can include:

  • unexplained weight loss
  • anemia diagnosis
  • bleeding from rectum
  • excessive fatigue or weakness
  • urge to pass a bowel movement that does not go away even after having passed one

Since stage IV cancer has spread to other areas of the body, a person may experience additional symptoms.

What symptoms present depends on the area where the cancer has spread. Colorectal cancer often spreads to the liver. However, it may also spread to the:

  • lungs
  • brain
  • distant lymph nodes
  • lining of the abdominal cavity
  • brain

Some of the symptoms of colorectal cancer can resemble symptoms associated with the menstrual cycle, such as bloating, cramping, or fatigue.

A person should talk with their doctor if they notice any changes or long lasting symptoms they often associate with their menstrual cycle.

Bowel cancer affects males and females similarly with regards to their symptoms. However, there are a few distinctions between the sexes.

Females have a lifetime risk of 1 in 25 for developing bowel cancer, whereas males have a lifetime risk of 1 in 23.

Risk factors associated with lifestyle choices, such as eating red meat, can differ between the sexes.

Bowel cancer occurs when cells in the colon or rectum start to grow out of control. Several risk factors can increase a person’s chances of developing colorectal cancer.

Some risk factors that a person cannot help include:

  • getting older
  • family or person history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • genetic syndromes, such as familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome)

In addition, a person can increase their risk of developing colorectal cancer with certain lifestyle choices.

Some things that can increase a person’s risk of developing bowel cancer include:

  • drinking alcohol
  • smoking
  • obesity
  • high fat, low fiber diet
  • diet high in processed meats
  • minimal physical exercise or activities
  • limited fruits and vegetables in diet

The current recommendation for people with minimal risk factors for developing bowel or colorectal cancer is to start screenings at 45 years old.

People with higher risk factors should talk with their doctor about when they should start getting screened.

Females who are going through menopause may be able to reduce their risk of developing bowel cancer via hormone therapy.

According to a 2017 study, hormone therapy may help with symptoms of menopause and reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

Some other steps a person can take to help reduce their risk of colorectal cancer include:

  • exercising regularly
  • eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and fiber
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • avoiding excessive alcohol use
  • not smoking

A person should contact their doctor if they notice abnormal bowel movements that persist for several weeks.

They should contact their doctor immediately if they experience bleeding during bowel movements or bloody, black stool.

People over the age of 45 should get regular screenings for colon cancer and not wait for symptoms to get screened.

Bowel or colorectal cancer affects biological females the same as biological males.

Minor differences include the lifetime risk and the potential use of hormone replacement therapy as a possible preventive measure for colorectal cancer.

Everyone should start screening for colon cancer by age 45. However, those at higher risk should get screening done earlier.