Understanding Hemorrhoids’ Similarity to Colon Cancer

Colon cancer and hemorrhoids are very different conditions, but both can produce blood in the stool. Seeing blood in the stool can be alarming, especially if you have never experienced it before. Most likely, you may have been straining when having a bowel movement, and the bleeding is due to a hemorrhoid. In other cases, blood in the stool could be an indication of something more serious. It’s important to understand the difference so you can assess whether you should visit a gastroenterologist.

What Are Hemorrhoids?

Hemorrhoids are itchy, painful or bleeding masses of swollen tissues and veins located in the anus and rectum. They develop from congestion in the blood vessels around the anal canal. Hemorrhoids can be either internal (above the junction between the anus and rectum) or external (below the junction of the rectum and anus). Hemorrhoids are much more common than you may think: about 89 percent of all Americans will experience hemorrhoids at some point in their lifetime. Most hemorrhoids occur from an increase in pressure, often from straining to have a bowel movement. Hemorrhoids can also be caused by:

  • Pregnancy
  • Aging
  • Sitting for long periods of time
  • Chronic constipation or diarrhea
  • Lifting objects that are too heavy

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Symptoms of Hemorrhoids

Although the most common symptom of hemorrhoids is blood in the stool or blood on the toilet paper after wiping, there are other warning signs. Some other common symptoms of hemorrhoids are:

  • Irritation and itching
  • Pain or discomfort during bowel movements
  • Sensitive, painful lumps around the anus
  • Leakage of feces

Hemorrhoids can be completely painless, as with internal hemorrhoids, or they can be quite painful if they are located outside of the anus. Depending on your toilet habits, you can exacerbate irritation and cause more bleeding and itching. Excessive rubbing or cleaning of the affected area can make it worse.

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Be proactive about your health. Make a commitment to regular visits to your doctor. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be embarrassed to talk about hemorrhoids or rectal bleeding.

If you are experiencing pain and rectal bleeding, speak with your doctor about having a colonoscopy, even if you are under 50 years of age. If you aren’t under the care of a physician, click here to find a gastroenterologist in your area.

Although the rate of colon cancer in adults aged 50 or older is declining, there is an increase in young-onset colon cancer. The good news is that colon cancer is highly treatable when found early. In fact, the five-year survival rate of colon cancer is 90 percent when it is found in the early, localized stage.

Asking the right questions can save your life, so speak up for the sake of your health.