Colour of your poo could be signalling cancer high up in the bowel

A change to your bowel habits is less likely to be cancer, but you should be mindful of any changes, said Gemma Stuart, founding owner of Gutsy Health, makers of Gut Wealth.

She said: “As a nation we’re quite reserved, you don’t often find people talking openly about their toilet habits and those that suffer from gut health issues tend to keep it to themselves.

“But the problem is so much more common than you think – around 6.5 million people in the UK are affected by some form of bowel problem. The more we open up the conversation on things like the ideal colour and shape of your bowel movements without giggling or cringing, the more people will become aware of the signs of serious health concerns.

“Getting to know your gut and what’s normal for you is key”.

One of the first changes to look out for, according to Gemma, is black stools. She said: “A black stool isn’t always an immediate cause for concern. The colour may be caused by medication you’re taking, like iron tablets, or even from eating foods like liquorice.

“However, if the stool seems tarry black or darkest red, this could be because it contains old, dark blood and may be an indication of bleeding somewhere in your digestive system or a sign of bleeding can be a sign of cancer higher up the bowel.”

If you’re not taking any medications that could be causing this colour change, and black stools persist, Gemma recommends contacting your GP.

Gemma listed some other changes to be wary of:

Consistency/shape of stool

Changes in the consistency or shape of stool can occur for various reasons, including dietary factors and gastrointestinal issues.

But symptoms of bowel cancer may include changes in your poo, such as having softer poo or porridge consistency, diarrhoea or constipation that is not usual for you.

Gemma said: “Bowel cancer may cause changes, but it’s not the only potential cause. If you can’t attribute it to anything else, you should go get it checked out.”

Smell of stools

Changes in the smell of stools alone are generally not specific indicators of bowel cancer.

But persistent changes in bowel habits, including odours, should be discussed with a healthcare professional, said Gemma.

Duration of changes

Any persistent and unexplained changes in bowel habits, including colour, consistency, or shape of stool, should be evaluated by your GP.

Gemma said: “The duration of symptoms can vary, but it’s crucial not to ignore persistent changes. If you can, track things in a diary it could help the GP understand really what’s going on.”

Other signs to look out for

Other potential signs of bowel cancer can include unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain or discomfort, fatigue, and the feeling of incomplete bowel emptying.

Gemma said: “Again, these symptoms can also be caused by various conditions, and a healthcare professional can provide a proper evaluation. The more info you can bring, the better.”

When to see a GP

If you experience persistent changes in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, or any other concerning symptoms, it’s advisable to consult your GP, said Gemma. She added: “Early detection and intervention can significantly improve outcomes.”

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