With post-Covid bowel cancer deaths set to soar, it’s time to keep a close eye on our number twos

DID you know, we produce more than 11,000kg of the stuff in our lifetimes – the equivalent of three hippos in weight?

But that doesn’t stop us being squeamish about the P word.

“We all poo, but how often do you think about what it can tell you about your health?” says nutritionist Kim Pearson.

In fact, your number twos could be giving you the early warning signs something’s up.

While more often than not, it will be a mild condition such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), in rare cases it could be deadly.

Blood in your poo is a red flag for bowel cancer – the second deadliest form of cancer in the country.

It claims around 16,000 lives a year, but due to a delay in screening, diagnosis and treatment in lockdown, it’s estimated that up to an extra 5,503 people could die from it in the next year.

“Early diagnosis saves lives,” says Sun columnist and stage 4 bowel cancer patient Deborah James.

“Regularly checking your poo for signs of cancer is so vital. The key is knowing what feels and looks normal for you.

“By being in tune with your body, you are more likely to pick up on warning signs.”

The mum of two, who was diagnosed at the age of 35, warns we are facing a “tsunami of cancer deaths” as a result of Covid-19.

“We all have to do our bit to flatten this cancer curve,” she says.

“Yes, we need government action, but you can start by going to see your GP if something feels wrong. Too many people are embarrassed – don’t be,  your doctor has seen it all before.”

So what is a healthy poo and what should you be looking out for?

“There are seven different types of poo – colour can vary as well as texture,” says Kim.

“Going between three times a day and three times a week is considered normal, but it’s about what’s normal for you. If that changes, it might warrant investigation.”

Here, Kim takes us through the signs you need to watch for.

What could each colour mean?

Dark black

It’s worth remembering that what you eat can have an impact on the colour of your number twos.

Kim says some foods, such as liquorice, can leave it blacker in colour, as can iron supplements.

But, she warns: “Black stools can suggest you have some bleeding somewhere internally along your gastrointestinal tract.

“This can be a sign of a serious health problem, such as bowel cancer, so it’s worth seeing your GP as soon as possible.”


“A red stool, or one that’s brown with flecks of red, suggests fresh rather than old blood, which can cause black poo,” Kim explains.

The good news is, in most cases this will be a sign of a relatively harmless condition, such as a small tear or haemorrhoids.

But, in rare cases, fresh blood in your poo can be a sign of bowel cancer, so it is really important to see your GP to get it checked out. 


“If your stool is yellow, it could be because your liver isn’t creating enough bile to digest the fat in your diet,” Kim says.

It could be a sign of cirrhosis, hepatitis, as well as coeliac disease.

“If your stool is yellow for more than a day, see your GP.”


Coffee Stimulants like caffeine can give you the urge to poop.

Milk Those with lactose intolerance can suffer bloating or diarrhoea.

Garlic and onions Full of insoluble fibre, they release gas as you digest them.

Spicy food Chilli can irritate the stomach lining, causing bloating.

Fast food Burgers and pizza are high in saturated fats, which are tough to digest.


“Green poo is normal if it is the result of a diet high in green veg,” says Kim.

“If you’re passing it without any pain or discomfort, it means you’re likely processing things normally.”

If you notice pain at the same time, it’s worth a trip to the GP.

Light brown

A lighter shade of poo can be a sign of something sinister – such as pancreatic cancer or gallstones – so it’s important to get it checked.

“If your poo is this colour and floating in the bowl, it could be down to a high-fat diet.

Dietary changes, such as an increase in fibre, could help,” says Kim. 


“Stercobilin is the pigment our body produces that makes poo brown.

"If your stool is white, it could indicate issues with your bile duct, so it’s worth going to see your doctor,” recommends Kim.


Live yoghurt and kefir They’re full of probiotics for good gut health.

Beans and pulses Packed with fibre, these help boost digestion. 

Apples and pears Hydrating and contain soluble fibre pectin to prevent constipation.

Prunes Another high-fibre snack, they’re great for keeping you regular.

Bone broth Clear soups help with hydration and are easy to digest.

Stool School 

Type 1: Separate lumps that are hard to pass. “This is a sign of constipation. If it lasts more than a week or two, see your GP.”

Type 2: A lumpy sausage. “The stool has been in your bowel a while, but more fibre and fluids in your diet could remedy this.”

Type 3: Sausage-shaped, but with cracks on the surface. “This is normal and won’t take longer than a minute or two to pass.”

Type 4: Snake-like, smooth and easy to pass. “This is a perfect healthy poo. Ideally, you’ll have one of these every one to two days.”

Type 5: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges, you might feel an urgency to pass. “This is mild diarrhoea and should clear up quickly.”

Type 6: Fluffy pieces. “This is diarrhoea. You’re losing electrolyte nutrients, so try a rehydration treatment. If it persists see your GP.”

Type 7: Entirely liquid. “Full-blown diarrhoea. If you have any other symptoms, or this lasts more than three days, see your GP.”

  • For more on bowel health from Deborah James, click here.

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