Hemorrhoids or Colorectal Cancer: How To Know the Difference
Everyone poops, but a bowel movement that has blood, small lumps at the anal opening or pain could be serious.
In most cases, the problem traces back to a benign condition called hemorrhoids. But sometimes those same symptoms can indicate the onset of colorectal cancer, the third-leading cause of cancer deaths.
So what exactly is going on down there and what is the best way to treat it?
What Are Hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are enlarged, bulging blood vessels in and around your anus and bottom section of your colon, known as the rectum. They can form both internally and externally because of added pressure from straining during bowel movements, chronic constipation or diarrhea, pregnancy, extended periods of standing, heavy lifting, aging and even just heredity. A very common condition, hemorrhoids affect nearly 1 in 20 people, with men and women over age 50 most at risk.
What Is Colorectal Cancer?
Cancer that forms in either the colon (large intestines) or rectum is often referred to as colorectal cancer. Most begins as a growth, or polyp, on the inner lining of those areas. Although not all polyps are cancerous, left unchecked, they can become invasive and spread into blood vessels and lymph nodes, and then travel throughout your body.
As with hemorrhoids, colorectal cancer affects both men and women and is most common over age 50. While regular screenings continue to lower the overall colorectal cancer death rates, the diagnosis of young adults between the ages of 30 and 50 is on the rise – increasing nearly 2.5 percent each year. While reasons for this are still unknown, it stresses the importance of seeing your doctor if you experience any symptoms. Colorectal survival rates are very high with early treatment.
Are Hemorrhoids and Colorectal Cancer Related?
Although hemorrhoids and colon cancer do share some symptoms, such as rectal bleeding, itching and potential lumps at the anal opening, hemorrhoids do not cause colon cancer.
These overlapping conditions can cause some to assume it's “just hemorrhoids” and put off seeing their doctor, which gives potential cancerous cells more time to grow.
In addition to those listed above, colorectal cancer may have these symptoms:
Diarrhea or constipation
Blood in your stools
Frequent gas pain or cramps
Feeling bloated or that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
Weight loss with no known reason
Nausea or vomiting
Treatments for Hemorrhoids and Colorectal Cancer
The first step is always to meet with your doctor to be sure that you are treating the correct condition. They will conduct a physical exam and determine if additional screenings, such as blood tests or colonoscopies, are needed.
To relieve pain and itching, a sitz bath of warm water and over-the-counter products such as witch hazel or creams can shrink inflamed tissues.
For serious or persistent cases, medical options include banding (also called rubber band ligation) which cuts off the vessel’s blood flow, causing it to shrink. A surgical option is a hemorrhoidectomy, which removes the painful blood vessel.
Depending on the severity and location of your cancer, there are several medical solutions. The past few years have seen dramatic improvements to radiation treatments that reduce the need for surgery as much as 60 percent. Colorectal cancer treatments include:
Radiation, which uses high-energy X-rays or particles to destroy cancerous cells.
Ablation or Embolization, used to remove or kill tumors that might have spread to other areas of the body.
Surgery, which can range from removal of the polyps alone to all or part of the colon.
Chemotherapy, given orally or intravenously, reaches cancer cells throughout the body, including those missed by radiation or surgery.
Immunotherapy uses medication to improve a person’s own immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells.
Although colon- and rectum-related issues may be embarrassing and painful, the majority of these problems are fixable with minimally invasive solutions.
Prevention is as simple as eating a healthy diet that includes fiber and water, exercising regularly and keeping current with all annual checkups and screenings.
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