This is for our anesthesia readers that treat patients with pain.
Colon cancer can sometimes cause back pain. Changes to bowel movements that occur with back pain may indicate late-stage colon cancer.
The main symptoms are changes to a person’s bowel movements or routine. However, a person may not notice any symptoms until they have late-stage colon cancer. Other symptoms may also appear at this later stage.
Back pain can sometimes occur with colorectal cancer. It is typically radicular pain, or nerve pain. This type of pain results from pressure on the underlying nerve root, for example, when a tumor or swelling presses upon the spine.
This article looks at how to recognize and treat colon cancer and why back pain develops.
Back pain is rarely a symptom of colon cancer, but it can happen in the following cases:
- Cancer spreads from the colon to the spine, although this is rare.
- A tumor or swelling presses on the spinal cord.
- Treatment for colon cancer causes back pain as a side effect.
One way colon cancer can affect the back is through metastasis, when cancer cells from the colon travel to other parts of the body, such as the bones or spine. If the cancer cells spread to the spine, it can cause compression of the nerves or spinal cord, leading to back pain.
Another way that colon cancer can cause back pain is by obstructing the colon. This can lead to a buildup of stool and gas, which can cause bloating and discomfort in the abdomen. The pressure from the obstruction can also radiate to the back, causing pain.
Advanced colon cancer
In some cases, back pain can also be a symptom of advanced colon cancer. As the cancer progresses, it can cause inflammation and damage to nearby tissues and organs, including the muscles and nerves in the back.
Treatment side effects
The treatment a person receives for colon cancer can also cause back pain. Some chemotherapy medications, such as Herceptin (trastuzumab), can cause back and bone pain in some individuals.
Back pain due to colon cancer may occur in the lower back. This is due to pain radiating from the cancer site in the lower abdomen.
The features of back pain with colon cancer may be as follows:
- Pain is present during rest.
- It does not worsen with exercise.
- It may be more prevalent at night or early in the morning.
- There may also be numbness and tingling.
- Pain may radiate from the tumor site to the abdomen, back, buttocks, or legs.
When back pain occurs, it is typically alongside other symptoms and in the later stages of colon cancer.
Usually, back pain that stems from colon cancer happens in the later stages of the disease.
Other symptoms of later-stage colon cancer include:
- diarrhea or constipation
- blood in the stool that may appear darker or red
- bright red blood in stool
- unexplained weight loss
- abdominal pain
- iron deficiency
- bloating or gas
- irritable bowel syndrome
- changes in stool consistency
- persistent urge to pass stool, even when the bowel is empty
If cancer spreads to other parts of the body, symptoms will occur that are specific to the new cancer sites.
For example, if it spreads to the liver, a person may develop jaundice. Bone pain can result if cancer spreads to the bones.
When to see a doctor
Anyone noticing a change in their bowel habits should seek medical advice immediately. If they already have a diagnosis of bowel cancer, they should also inform their doctor.
The symptoms may not be due to cancer, but tests can help confirm this.
Here are some answers to some FAQs about colon cancer and back pain.
Where is colon cancer pain usually felt?
Colon cancer does not cause pain until the later stages. As it progresses, a person may feel pain in the abdomen, liver, bones, and other parts where cancer has spread.
If the tumor is pressing on a nerve, back pain may occur.
What type of cancer causes back pain?
Colon cancer is one type of cancer that can cause back pain, but any type of cancer that spreads to the spinal cord is likely to cause back pain. Spinal tumors and various late-stage cancers can have back pain as a symptom.
Other types of cancer in and near the spine that can cause lower back pain include:
- lung cancer
- breast cancer
- blood cancers
- skin cancers
- ovarian cancer
- prostate cancer
Lower back pain can occur with late-stage colon cancer. Some treatments, such as chemotherapy, can also lead to back pain in people with colon cancer.
Anyone with back pain and unusual bowel activity should seek medical advice. The doctor will conduct tests to identify the cause of symptoms and make a treatment plan, if necessary.