Exam Overview

You can help your doctor diagnose and treat
your condition by being ready to answer the following questions:

  • What are your main symptoms? Although
    colorectal cancer does not always cause symptoms,
    common symptoms include:

    • Abdominal (belly) cramps.
    • A change in your bowel
      habits (either constipation or diarrhea).
    • Blood in your
    • Narrow stools.
    • Unexplained weight
    • Fatigue.
    • Loss of appetite.
  • How long have you had the
  • Are your symptoms getting worse?
  • Do you smoke
    or use other types of tobacco?
  • What foods do you typically eat? Do
    you eat a lot of processed foods and animal fats?
  • Have you ever
    been told you have cancer, either colorectal or another type?
  • Has
    anyone else in your family ever been diagnosed with colorectal or another type
    of cancer?
  • Do you have any type of
    inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis
    or Crohn’s disease?
  • What drugs do you take? Make a complete list of
    all your prescriptions and any over-the-counter drugs, and take the list with
    you to your appointment.

During a physical exam, your doctor will:

  • Take your temperature and
  • Listen to your heart and lungs.
  • Inspect your
    abdomen for signs of a tumor, enlargement of your liver, or
  • Perform a
    digital rectal exam.

Why It Is Done

A complete medical history and
physical exam will help your doctor find the cause of your symptoms. It will
also help decide whether you need more tests.


The results of the medical history and physical
exam may mean that a person needs to begin routine testing for colorectal
cancer earlier than age 50 and have it more often. Your doctor may recommend earlier or more
frequent testing if you:

  • Already have been diagnosed with colorectal
  • Have a first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or
    child) with an
    adenomatous polyp or colorectal
  • Have had adenomatous polyps removed
    from your colon. This type of polyp is more likely to turn into cancer, though
    the risk is still very low.
  • Have inflammatory bowel disease, such
    ulcerative colitis or
    Crohn’s disease.
  • Have a rare
    inherited polyp syndrome.
  • Have had
    endometrial cancer or
    ovarian cancer.
  • Have had
    radiation treatments to the abdomen or pelvis.

What To Think About

If your medical history and
physical exam lead your doctor to suspect colorectal cancer, you will need more
tests. These tests may include
fecal occult blood testing,

biopsy, and
complete blood count.

Complete the medical test information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this test.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kenneth Bark, MD – General Surgery, Colon and Rectal Surgery

Current as ofMay 3, 2017