The shape of your stool could be a warning sign of bowel cancer – ‘subtle clues’
The colon and rectum, which make up the large intestine, are among the most common sites of cancer. Unfortunately, tumors in this part of the body are rarely detected at an early stage due to the lack of symptoms at the onset of the disease. Changes in the shape and consistency of stool can be one of the first signs of trouble.
Sometimes patients who notice changes in the consistency of their stools are lucky enough to contract colon cancer in the early stages.
Normal stool is usually one to two inches in diameter, while narrow pencil stool is nearly flat and has a fibrous appearance.
Colon stricture is usually a sign of a narrowing or obstruction of the colon caused by inflammatory bowel disease or cancer.
According to VeryWell Health, colon cancer is a progressive disease in which a local tumor spreads over time and invades early tissues and organs.
READ MORE: Tenesmus is a ‘common’ sign that a tumor is growing inside the colon
“Disease progression is classified into stages from one to four, with each progressive stage representing a worsening of the disease,” the health authority explains.
“In the early stages of colon cancer, namely stage 1 (when the tumor is localized) and stage 2 (when the cancer has spread to nearby tissues but not to the lymph nodes), symptoms can often be absent or non-specific.”
Despite these concerns, subtle cues may attract the attention of some patients.
These include narrow “pencil” stools, pain with bowel movements, and a feeling of being unable to have a bowel movement.
The Mayo Clinic recommends seeing a doctor if these changes last longer than one or two weeks.
The health authority, however, assures us that in most cases, narrow stools are harmless if they occur infrequently.
What’s more, loose stools can be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
“IBS is another condition that can cause a change in the size of your stool,” explains VeryWell Health.
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“See your doctor immediately if your bowel changes are accompanied by rectal bleeding or severe abdominal pain.”
If a person has multiple symptoms and is at risk for colon cancer, they may be referred for a colonoscopy.
These tests use special instruments that allow gastroenterologists to look inside the colon and rectum for precancerous growths called polyps.
Sometimes a polyp is removed during a procedure and sent to a lab to determine if it is cancerous.
“Colonoscopy not only identifies potentially precancerous polyps, known as adenomas, but also removes them,” explains Harvard Health.
Past studies show that colonoscopy is associated with a 69 percent reduction in new cases of colorectal cancer.
Therefore, anyone over 45 years of age is advised to undergo an examination.
“For some patients, including those with a family history of early colorectal cancer or conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, screening may even begin as early as age 45,” explains Harvard Health.
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