The appearance of stools, such as pencil thin or ribbon-like, or “tarry” or bloody, is often mentioned with colon cancer.
But can stools be normal in appearance while cancer is growing in a person’s colon?
“Yes; many people who are diagnosed with colon cancer report having no symptoms prior to their diagnosis,” says Dr. Saurabh (Seth) Sethi, MD, a Harvard University and Stanford University trained board-certified gastroenterologist practicing in the San Francisco bay area.
Of course, in the early stages of colon cancer, there will be no effect on the appearance of one’s bowel movements; they will look normal.
But what about as the disease progresses and starts causing other symptoms?
At that point, can stools still appear normal?
“People can have symptoms like fatigue (attributed to anemia from slow loss of blood from colon cancer) while poop looks normal in caliber and no obvious blood (patient will have occult blood in stool),” explains Dr. Sethi.
Occult blood refers to blood that is not visible to the naked eye, but that can be detected with microscopic analysis.
If you’ve been experiencing concerning symptoms, but every time you check your bowel movements they appear perfectly normal, this does NOT rule out the possibility of colon cancer.
Colon Cancer Symptoms Other than Abnormal Stool Caliber
• Unexplained fatigue
• Unexplained weight loss
• Abdominal discomfort (pain, cramps, gas)
• Feeling you have to void even after you’ve voided
• Diarrhea alternating with constipation (details on what this means)
Dr. Sethi explains, “Don’t wait for symptoms to occur to get screened for colon cancer if you are over the age of 50 or if you have a family history of the disease.”
Many people just don’t get screened, even though they know that they should.
Sure, the prep for the colonoscopy is unpleasant, and the procedure itself – which can catch this disease very early or detect precancerous polyps — can be unnerving.
But the prep and procedure are a picnic when compared to the treatment for colon cancer – which can include having some of your colon cut out.
Follow Dr. Sethi at Twitter (twitter.com/sethsethimd) and Instagram (instagram.com/doctor.sethi/). saurabhsethimd.com
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.