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Pencil stool may be among first subtle clues of cancerous tumour

Colon cancer: Dr Zoe outlines the symptoms to look out for

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The colon and rectum – which make up the large intestine – are some of the most common spots for cancer. Unfortunately, tumours in this part of the body are rarely caught early due to a lack of symptoms at the outset of the disease. Changes in the shape and consistency of stool may be among the first signs to spell trouble.

Sometimes, patients who notice changes in their stool consistency are lucky enough to catch colon cancer in its early stages.

Normal stool is typically one to two inches in diameter, whereas narrow pencil stool is almost flat, and has a stringy appearance.

A colon stricture tends to be a sign of 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 tumour spreads over time and invades early tissues and organs.

“The progression of the disease is classified in stages from one to four, with each advancing stage representing a worsening of the disease,” explains the health body.

“During the early stages of colon cancer – namely, stage one (when the tumour is localised) and stage two (when cancer has spread to nearby tissue but not the lymph nodes) – the symptoms can often be absent or non-specific.”

Despite these concerns, subtle clues may spring to the attention of some patients.

These include narrow “pencil” stools, pain with defecation, and sensations of being unable to empty the bowel.

The Mayo Clinic recommends seeing a doctor if these changes last longer than one or two weeks.

The health body reassures, however, that in most cases narrow stools are harmless if they occur infrequently.

What’s more, thin stool may be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

“IBS is another condition that may cause changes in the size of your stools,” explains VeryWell health.

“Consult your doctor immediately if your bowel changes are accompanied by rectal bleeding or severe abdominal pain.”

If a person displays several symptoms and is at risk of colon cancer, they may be referred for a colonoscopy.

These tests use special instruments that allow gastroenterologists to see inside the colon and rectum for any pre-cancerous growths called polyps.

Sometimes, a polyp is removed during the procedure and sent off to a laboratory to determine whether or not it’s malignant.

“Not only can colonoscopy identify potentially precancerous polyps known as adenomas, but it also allows their removal,” explains Harvard Health.

Past research shows that colonoscopies are associated with a 69 percent decrease in new cases of colorectal cancer.

Anyone over the age of 45 is therefore encouraged to get screened.

“For certain patients, including those with a family history of early-onset colorectal cancer, or diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, screening may be started even earlier than age 45,” explains Harvard Health.

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