Although hemorrhoids and colon cancer are two very different conditions, they can share similar symptoms. This guide will help you learn about the different signs.
Noticing blood in your stool for the first time is understandably alarming. The good news is, it’s likely that blood in your stool is an indication of hemorrhoids, which, while not much fun, aren’t generally a serious medical condition.
Hemorrhoids are actually swollen veins located in the anus and rectum area, and they’re quite common: About 80 percent of all Americans experience hemorrhoids at some point in their lives. They can be internal (inside the rectum or anus) or external (on, or protruding from, the rectum or anus), and symptoms can range from no or mild discomfort to significant pain, itchiness and bleeding.
While the exact cause of hemorrhoids is unknown, they’re most likely to occur when there’s an increase in pressure in the area, such as when you strain to have a bowel movement, for example. They’re more likely to occur during pregnancy, aging, sitting for long periods of time, chronic constipation or diarrhea, straining or lifting heavy objects.
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Hemorrhoids usually aren’t dangerous, and in many cases, the symptoms will go away within a few days.
Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms of hemorrhoids:
- Itching or irritation in the anal area
- Bright red blood on toilet tissue, stool or in the toilet bowl
- Pain or discomfort, especially during bowel movements
- A sensitive or painful lump(s) on or near your anus
To relieve symptoms, doctors recommend sitting in a lukewarm bath, alternating moist heat with ice and limiting extended periods of time sitting. There are also over-the-counter topical creams and suppositories to battle the symptoms. Patients are also advised to use scent- and dye-free toilet paper and to keep the area clean.
Colon cancer (also known as colorectal cancer) is a malignant tumor arising from the inner wall of the large intestine. Signs and symptoms of colon cancer are often not specific, which means they may be mistaken for a number of different conditions. When colon cancer is detected in its early stages, there may be no symptoms present at all.
The usual symptoms and signs of colon cancer are:
- Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
- Dark-colored stool
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by having one
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
In most cases, people who have these symptoms do not have cancer. Still, if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor so the cause can be found and treated.
To check for colon cancer, physicians use sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy to look for growths (polyps) in the colon. If a growth is found, the physician will take a biopsy to determine whether the growth is cancerous. If you are diagnosed with colon cancer, treatment depends on how early it is found, but it may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and targeted therapies. Risk factors for colorectal cancer include a family history of colon polyps (small clump of cells that form on the lining of the colon) and long-standing inflammation of the large intestine.
Because the symptoms are often subtle and easily overlooked, colon cancer screening is very important, especially if you are over the age of 50.
by Ramin Zahed
The Colorectal Cancer Program at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of the nation’s leading programs in cancer treatment and cancer genetics. If you are in the Los Angeles area, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit http://keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/ to schedule an appointment.