Hemorrhoids and certain types of cancer, particularly colon and anal cancer, can cause similar symptoms. This can lead people with rectal bleeding or lumps in the anus to believe they have cancer.
Hemorrhoids are more common than cancer and the most likely explanation for bleeding or rectal pain. However, it is impossible for a person to self-diagnose based on symptoms alone. Hence, it is important to speak to a doctor.
Read on to learn more about how to tell the difference between hemorrhoids and cancer.
Hemorrhoids refer to swollen veins in the rectum and anus. You may become irritated and bleed, injured, or itchy.
Cancer occurs because cells get out of hand. Anal cancer can cause a growth or lump in the rectum or anus, while colon cancer affects the colon and does not cause lumps or bumps that a person can feel with their hand.
It is not always possible to tell the difference between cancer and hemorrhoids.
Symptoms are more likely to be due to hemorrhoids if:
- Person has risk factors for hemorrhoids, such as current pregnancy, constipation, a history of stress, to have a bowel movement, or a history of hemorrhoids
- Symptoms improve when you receive home treatment, eat more fiber, take a hip bath, or apply hemorrhoid creams
- Person may feel a swollen lump or bump near the anus, or see a swollen vein with a mirror
- Symptoms come and go but do not get progressively worse or cause other symptoms such as weight loss
It is important to speak to a doctor about health changes as it is much easier to treat cancer at its early stages.
Some factors that increase your risk of cancer include:
- be over 50 years old
- have a family history of cancer
Some symptoms that indicate hemorrhoids include:
- painful itching or burning near the entrance to the rectum
- Pain that gets worse after you have a bowel movement
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Blood in the stool
Anal cancer symptoms are similar, so it’s important to ask a doctor about any growth or bleeding that won’t go away.
Anal cancer is particularly treatable if diagnosed and treated early.
Colon cancer often does not cause symptoms in the early stages. This is why regular colon cancer checkups are so important to good health. Some symptoms a person may notice are:
- tarry stools
- Blood in the stool
- Bleeding from the rectum
- a feeling of having to use the bathroom that won’t go away after a bowel movement
- Pressure or pain in the stomach
- Tiredness or weakness
- a persistent, unexplained change in bowel habits, such as frequent diarrhea or constipation
- unintentional weight loss
Anyone can have hemorrhoids, and the risk increases with age.
Hemorrhoids can be internal, which means that the damaged vein is inside the rectum, or external, which means it is outside of the rectum – often at the entrance. Internal hemorrhoids tend to be painless, while external hemorrhoids can be painful.
A hemorrhoid occurs when a vein in the rectum becomes irritated and inflamed. It gets bigger and the stool rubs against it. This can cause pain.
Hemorrhoids occur naturally. Some risk factors are:
- being pregnant or overweight or obese as this puts more pressure on the rectum
- Have constipation or are consuming a low-fiber diet
- Effort to have a bowel movement
- have a sedentary lifestyle
Cancer is a complex disease that has no single cause.
Certain risk factors increase the chances of developing anal cancer, including:
- with a history of human papillomavirus
- chronic injuries to the anus
- be over 55 years old
A person is more likely to develop colon cancer if they:
- Are overweight or obese
- have a family history of colon cancer
- eat lots of fried foods
- consume a lot of alcohol
Genetics can also play a role. People with a family history of cancer may be more likely to develop the disease.
Age also increases the risk of cancer, and most cancers are uncommon in young people.
A doctor can usually diagnose hemorrhoids by doing a simple rectal exam and taking a medical history. If they notice any unusual growth that isn’t a hemorrhoid, they may recommend a biopsy to test for anal cancer.
Diagnosing colon cancer is more difficult. This is because cancer markers don’t necessarily correlate with the presence or absence of cancer. Therefore, the doctor may also recommend tests based on symptoms. For example, they can ask if a person is bleeding but not having hemorrhoids, or if hemorrhoid treatment is not relieving their symptoms.
They may do blood tests to look for cancer markers or recommend a colonoscopy to look for growth. A colonoscopy involves inserting a thin, flexible tube into the rectum while the person is sleeping or sedated. If the doctor sees any growth, they can examine it in the laboratory or recommend a biopsy.
A number of lifestyle changes can improve symptoms of hemorrhoids. For example, people can try:
- eat more fiber
- not stressful during bowel movements
- Treatment of constipation
- become more physically active
- Taking a hip bath if hemorrhoids are painful
If these options don’t help, a doctor may recommend surgery to remove the hemorrhoids.
Treatment for cancer depends on the type, stage, and location, as well as a person’s general health. In general, some treatment options include:
- Surgery to remove cancerous growths
- Chemotherapy or radiation therapy to slow or stop the spread of cancer
- Drugs to slow the spread of cancer
- Treatments that address both the side effects of cancer and the side effects of cancer treatment
Bleeding or pain in the rectum can be especially important in people with a family history of cancer. It is important not to delay treatment out of fear.
A doctor can diagnose the cause, recommend treatment, and provide confirmation.
Even if it is cancer, early diagnosis can greatly improve survival and health.