How Can I Tell if It's Colon Cancer or Hemorrhoids?



With the help of Web MD, it is a temptation to research every ailment and self-diagnose. Health websites can be a helpful resource, but they can also encourage us to jump to conclusions. Two conditions that can often be mistaken for one another are colorectal cancer and hemorrhoids. Both conditions are common among Americans. One in every 20 Americans (5 percent) will develop colon cancer in his or her lifetime, and about 4.4 percent of Americans are affected by hemorrhoids (Source: Live Science).

Even though colorectal cancer and hemorrhoids may have some similar symptoms such as blood in the stool, their treatments are quite different. Here are a few characteristics of each condition.

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is a malignant tumor in the colon or the rectum. Most cases of colorectal cancer begin as small clusters of benign cells called polyps, but they can develop into cancer if they are not removed during a colonoscopy. Symptoms of colorectal cancer may include:

  • Stools that are not round in shape but are thinner and pencil-like.
  • Anal tenesmus, or the feeling of constantly needing to pass stool.
  • Changes in bowel habits such as diarrhea and constipation.
  • Weight loss and fatigue.
  • Abdominal pain, cramping, and possible nausea and vomiting.

Colorectal cancers are most often diagnosed in individuals over the age of 50 (although young onset colon cancer incidence is increasing). Family history and syndromes like familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer can also contribute to colorectal cancer risk.


Hemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels in the anal and rectal wall. When the vessels and surrounding tissues become inflamed, they often enlarge and protrude. Hemorrhoids can be either internal or external, but both types may produce bleeding. If left untreated, hemorrhoids could cause anemia, infection, anal spasm, increased pain, ulceration, abdominal pain, and discomfort when sitting down or lying down. External hemorrhoids may prolapse and cause increased irritation and itching.

 Hemorrhoids are generally caused by specific conditions or activities. Several circumstances or habits may cause hemorrhoids such as:

  • Pregnancy
  • Stress
  • Sedentary work and lack of exercise
  • Constipation and straining
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Spicy food

Because colorectal cancer and hemorrhoids are common among Americans and they have similar symptoms in early stages, they can be mistaken for one another or misdiagnosed. If you experience any rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, call your doctor to schedule an appointment. Early detection means early treatment. For hemorrhoids, this means early relief and better health. For colorectal cancer, it could mean saving your life (Source: Vitality).