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Colon Cancer Patients Share Easy-to-Miss Bathroom Symptoms

Abnormal bowel movements, including thin stool, could be key indicators of the disease.

More than 106,500 adults will be diagnosed with colon cancer in 2024, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). While incidence rates have dropped in older adults, data shows an annual one to two percent increase in colon cancer patients who are under 55 years old. In fact, UC Davis Health reports that colorectal cancer (which includes both colon and rectal cancers) is the leading cause of cancer death in adults under 50 years old.

Typically, colorectal cancer screening starts at age 45. However, young patients on social media are spreading awareness about easy-to-miss bathroom symptoms that may indicate the presence of colon cancer—and could warrant a colonoscopy or stool-based test despite your age.

RELATED: 2 Common Dietary Habits Are Causing Colon Cancer in Young People, Researchers Say.

"It's important to catch cancer early through screening or alerting to some of these symptoms so that we diagnose cancer at an earlier stage, where it's more treatable and hopefully curable," Michael Cecchini, MD, a medical oncologist at Yale Cancer Center, said in a HuffPost interview.

Bloody stool, debilitating abdominal pain, abnormal bowel movements, and unintentional weight loss are key indicators for a colorectal cancer screening. That said, some patients also notice a drastic change in the appearance of their stool.

One of the most concerning warning signs of colon cancer is "pencil-thin stools," as explained by TikToker Carolina Herrera, who was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer at age 28.

Herrera originally thought she had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or recurring hemorrhoids, so she delayed a trip to her doctor, hoping that her symptoms would go away on their own. But by the time she got screened, her cancer was considered severe.

"With pencil-thin stools, they say that it's either stage three or four—it's like your ending stages. The tumors are big, so it makes it really hard for the poop to pass through," she told followers in a video.

"Stools are much thinner, or they're pencil in thickness and size, which is a description that some patients with colorectal cancer will have," explained Cecchini. Although narrow stool isn't one of the most common signs of the disease, "When it exists, it is highly concerning," he noted.

@s1oux13

Diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at 28. These were my symptoms. #coloncancer #rectalcancer #symptoms #cancer #fyp #stage4

♬ original sound – Carolina Herrera

 

Herrera's TikTok has resonated with a large audience, many of whom have since shared their own colon cancer stories. Several warned that diarrhea and bloody stools are other easy-to-miss bathroom signs of the disease.

"Thank you for sharing my mom always told me if there's blood in your stool get it checked no matter what," wrote one TikToker.

"I couldn't go to the toilet, but now everyday and diarrhea…and my stool is like pencil," reads a comment.

"Wow I have IBS, I could see myself whenever even thinking to get checked from something more. Thanks for sharing," said another.

RELATED: 34-Year-Old With Colorectal Cancer Reveals the Warning Signs He Missed.

Meanwhile, colon cancer patients in their twenties and thirties have taken to Reddit to share their stories and spread awareness about commonly dismissed symptoms.

"No overly worrying symptoms – chronic diarrhea and one single instance of blood in stool. Doctor and I tried different things thinking IBS/IBD and she, just on a hunch, sent me for a colonoscopy. I waited 9 mos. to get in and they found my tumor," wrote a user.

A patient who was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer at age 38 said, "I had been dealing with intermittent blood in stools for about 9 months before it stopped being intermittent."

"Blood in stool for 15 years. Cramps in my stomach but weren't much. Stool after 15 years became pencil like," said another.

In his interview with HuffPost, Cecchini said there is a likelihood that abdominal pain and constipation could be symptoms of something else, such as IBS or hemorrhoids. However, the only way to know for sure is by speaking with your doctor.

"It's very easy in younger individuals to think, 'Oh, it's just hemorrhoids,' or something like that … and it may be, but also those things can coexist," he said. "People certainly have hemorrhoids and cancer, or it can be something else completely."

We offer the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Emily Weaver
Emily is a NYC-based freelance entertainment and lifestyle writer — though, she’ll never pass up the opportunity to talk about women’s health and sports (she thrives during the Olympics). Read more
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