1/18/12

Narrow Thin Stool Causes Other than Colon Cancer

What can cause stools to be thin or narrow other than colon cancer? 

There are actually benign causes of skinny, narrow stools in case you're fixating on cancer, says Whitney Jones, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of Louisville, and Founder, Colon Cancer Prevention Project.

Of course, narrow stools are unnerving to see in the toilet bowl, since we've heard that colon cancer can cause this. However, numerous things can affect the caliber of your poops.

“Stool content (e.g., solids vs. liquids), the amount of time stool spends in the gastrointestinal tract (i.e., transit/motility), and the function of the anal sphincter are all known to be involved in this process," says Dr. Jones.

"Alterations in stool consistency and a resultant ‘change in bowel habits’ are known symptoms of a number of disease processes such as inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, and irritable bowel syndrome.”

Another thing that can cause narrow stools is an increase in fiber intake, making BMs skinnier than usual. Foods with sorbitol or Olestra can also create this change.

“Ultimately, any process that affects stool consistency (e.g. dietary changes,), bowel transit or motility (e.g. chronic constipation, medicines, inflammatory conditions involving the GI tract), and/or anal sphincter function (e.g., rectal cancers, trauma, and surgeries) could result in long narrow stools.”

Sometimes, poop can be on the thin side just normally, and maybe you've recently become alerted to this after reading about colon cancer.

Find out what's outside the norm, says Dr. Jones, as far as the shape of your poops. If you're concerned, promptly make an appointment with a gastroenterologist to discuss a change in bowel habits.

If your BMs are narrow or skinny, this doesn't mean it's most likely colon cancer. It's most likely from something else, but you should still see a gastroenterologist just to make sure.

You may have microscopic colitis, a benign condition that I myself once had. One day a BM came out unusually long, and on the narrow side at that. It wasn't pencil thin, but narrower than usual.

Beware that a stool may appear skinnier than it actually is if it's unusually LONG. I imagined my very long bowel movement cut in thirds or fourths, and realized it wasn't so narrow after all. This particular movement simply didn't break up upon falling into the water.

“Regarding the caliber of stool and its correlation with the presence of left sided colon cancer, the data currently available does not necessarily indicate that narrow stools should alert patients or physicians of a possible malignant process," says Dr. Jones. 

"The notion that left sided colon cancer or rectal cancer often presents with narrow stools is based upon the anecdotal opinion of expert physicians of the late 19th/early 20th century,” he continues.

“There are no prospective studies and only a few retrospective studies in the literature that indicate that long narrow stools are correlated with cancer," he adds. "This conception has been propagated throughout the medical literature mostly based on tradition.”

Most early stage colon cancer presents with zero symptoms, and this is why it's so crucial to get screened for this disease via colonoscopy, starting at age 50 for men and women at average risk (due to age) for this killer, and then performed every 10 years, unless otherwise specified by your physician. Source: Dig Dis Sci (2009) 54:208-211

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