Colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in the U.S., in both men and women and the second leading cause of cancer related deaths. While 5% of the general population faces a lifetime risk for being diagnosed with the disease, those with a family history of colorectal cancer face a 10 to 15% chance.
As we observe colorectal month, one interesting thing that provides insight into colon health is your stool (poop). Following are some noteworthy facts about overall colon health and what you can learn by paying closer attention to your poop.
Drastic or persistent changes with bowels
There’s a popular misconception that being “regular” means having a bowel movement every day. The fact is that everyone has a unique pattern and what may be normal for one person may not be for another. You may go as frequently as three times a day or as little as three times a week and still be within what is considered a normal range.
If you are used to having one bowel movement a day and suddenly begin going much more or much less frequently for an extended period of time, this could be sign of a bigger issue.
Loose stool (diarrhea)
We’ve all suffered from the occasional case of the runs but when is it time to raise concern? There are numerous reasons why one may experience diarrhea but when it’s due to inflammation and irritation of the colon, it may be due to a more serious condition.
When inflammation in the colon is present, stool may be loose, watery and happen frequently. Common causes for colon inflammation include bacterial infection, poor blood flow to the colon, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, among others. Although serious, these conditions can be treated with early diagnosis.
Blood in the stool
As alarming as it may look when blood is present in stool, two of the most common reasons are constipation and hemorrhoids. Constipation can be attributed to diet and lack of water and usually goes away by increasing soluble fiber and water intake. Hemorrhoids are benign in nature and can be treated with over the counter ointments or surgery in more severe cases.
Blood in the stool may also indicate colorectal cancer, tumors, colon inflammation. There are multiple screening options such as colonoscopy, high sensitivity fecal occult blood tests (which checks for nonvisible amounts of blood in stool), and more. Your doctor can help determine which option is best for you.
When is it time for a screening?
In the U.S., the recommended age for your first colonoscopy screening is at age 50 and before age 50, depending on your family history. It’s important to always look out for changes in the appearance and frequency of your bowels and to consult with your doctor if you become aware of any abnormalities, like the ones mentioned above.
There are numerous colon and rectal diseases and conditions ranging from mild to life threatening in severity. However, research has shown that positive treatment outcome and survival rates increase significantly with early screening and treatment.
So, next time you have to poop, don’t just stare at your phone(!); remember to also give your poop a stare and check for any drastic changes in consistency and color. As always, you should discuss any concerns with your medical physician.