Colon cancer in females has many of the same symptoms as colon cancer in males. However, it may be difficult to distinguish symptoms of colon cancer from gynecologic symptoms, such as pelvic pain.

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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Colon cancer is cancer that develops in the colon, the longest part of the large intestine that attaches to the rectum. Colon cancer and rectal cancer make up colorectal cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER), approximately 32 out of every 100,000 females receive a colorectal cancer diagnosis in the United States each year.

This article looks at the symptoms, risk factors, and outcomes of colon cancer in females.

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Colon cancer is very similar across the sexes, but some differences do exist.

In general, females are less likely than males to develop colon cancer. However, it is still one of the most common cancers in females, second only to breast cancer.

While the rates of colorectal cancer in females are lower, they may be more likely to experience aggressive colon cancer.

According to one review, females may be more prone to developing colon cancer on the right side — a presentation that typically has associations with aggressive abnormal tissue growth.

The symptoms of colon cancer are the same regardless of sex. They include:

  • unintended weight loss
  • abdominal cramping
  • black-colored stool, indicating blood
  • bright red blood in stool
  • rectal bleeding
  • fatigue or lethargy
  • anemia
  • persistent need to have a bowel movement even after having one
  • unusual bowel changes lasting for more than a few days

Colorectal cancer does not always present with symptoms, especially in the early stages.

The symptoms of colon cancer can be mistaken for common pelvic sensations, such as those that relate to the female reproductive system.

Those living with conditions such as endometriosis, for example, may be accustomed to intense cramping and pelvic discomfort. They may dismiss persistent symptoms because they have already received an endometriosis diagnosis.

Can some symptoms of menstruation mimic colon cancer symptoms?

Menstruation, the monthly discharge of the uterine lining, is an experience that varies between people. It can be a time of discomfort, pain, and fatigue.

Symptoms of menstruation that can mimic colon cancer include:

Some people experience heavy menstrual bleeding, which may also lead to anemia.

Can symptoms of colon cancer be similar to those of perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause?

The transition of menopause is a time during which females may miss the signs of colorectal cancer.

Menopause signifies a period in life when hormone balances change, fertility declines, and monthly menstruation eventually ends. It includes perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.

All of the stages of menopause can come with a wide variety of symptoms. Some, such as extreme fatigue, abdominal pain, and migraine, can also be symptoms of colorectal cancer.

Gynecological cancers include cervical, endometrial, and ovarian cancers.

According to a 2021 study, people living with gynecological cancer have an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

The researchers found that the risk was greater for those with endometrial and ovarian cancer than those with cervical cancer.

Due to how close a female’s reproductive system is to the intestinal tract, those who have received a gynecological cancer diagnosis may also require screening for colon cancer.

The risk factors for colorectal cancer include:

  • advanced age
  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease
  • family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
  • Lynch syndrome — an inherited condition that increases the risk of cancer
  • inactivity
  • a diet that does not contain fruits and vegetables
  • a diet that is low in fiber and high in fat
  • a diet high in processed meats
  • tobacco use
  • alcohol consumption
  • overweight and obesity

Females may be more prone to certain risk factors. For example, a 2021 review notes that females are more likely than males to have overweight or obesity.

Certain inflammatory bowel diseases may also be more prevalent in females. A 2020 review notes Crohn’s disease is more common among females.

A 2018 study indicates females are more likely than males to have specific genetic mutations that relate to colon cancer.

Healthcare professionals treat colon cancer on the basis of its stage. Treatment options include:

SEER notes that the overall 5-year relative survival rate for females with colon cancer is 64.5%. This means a person has a 64.5% chance of living for another 5 years after receiving a colon cancer diagnosis compared to those without the condition.

The 5-year relative survival rates vary depending on the stage:

Stage5-year relative survival rate
localized, meaning the cancer has not spread92.2%
regional, meaning the cancer has spread beyond the colon to nearby lymph nodes and structures73.1%
distant, meaning the cancer has spread to more distant parts of the body16%

Diagnosis starts with a thorough medical exam and assessment of colorectal cancer risks.

On the basis of a person’s age, risk factors, and the presence of symptoms, a doctor can recommend a variety of tests to help screen for colon cancer.

Screening tests include:

If a doctor notes cancer or suspicious areas during screening tests such as a colonoscopy, a surgeon may perform a biopsy or remove the suspicious area at the same time.

Healthcare professionals recommend routine colon cancer screening starting at 45 years of age. A doctor may recommend screening sooner if other risk factors, such as a family history of colon cancer, are present.

Colon cancer in females presents similarly to colon cancer in males. The symptoms are universal, although females may have the added challenge of differentiating colon cancer symptoms from menstrual discomfort.

Females may also be more likely to experience certain colon cancer risk factors, such as obesity, and can be more prone to developing right-sided colon cancer, which is often more aggressive.