It can be incredibly traumatizing, the first time you stand up and see blood in the toilet bowl. Unless you’re very proactive about your health, you probably hope it goes away on its own. But it doesn’t. The good news is that it is much more likely that you have hemorrhoids than colon cancer, statistically speaking. The bad news is that rectal bleeding is never a sign of anything good. You must take action.
Is It Hemorrhoids Or Colon Cancer?
The symptoms to both are similar, but the diseases are wildly different, as well as the seriousness and treatment. Regardless of which you might have, see a doctor. But to help in the interim time before you get an appointment and to perhaps ease your mind, we’ll explain the differences you should be feeling and seeing from your body. But first:
What Are Hemorrhoids?
They are swollen veins in your anus or lower rectum, that can be internal or external. The bleeding comes from internal hemorrhoids. Whenever we strain these varicose veins, they can bleed. You can strain them by lifting heavy objects, but most likely it’s strain from having a bowel movement.
Hemorrhoids are actually quite common. At any given time, about 10 million Americans have them and by age 50, roughly half of all Americans have had to deal with hemorrhoids. It can be embarrassing to think about, but you are not alone.
As we age, the tissue that supports the veins in your rectum and anus can weaken and stretch, which is why hemorrhoids is thought of as an older person’s disease. The swollen veins can develop from increase pressure due to:
- Straining during bowel movements
- Chronic diarrhea or constipation
- Low-fiber diet
- Sitting too long on the toilet
You know how you like to read in the bathroom? That’s not good for you long term.
The following are signs you might have hemorrhoids:
- Small amounts of bright red blood in the toilet or on the toilet paper
- Itching in the anal area
- Pain or discomfort
- Swelling around the outside of your anus
- A lump near your anus, which may be sensitive or painful
Important note is that internal hemorrhoids rarely cause discomfort. So, don’t jump to a cancer conclusion if you don’t feel discomfort, pain or itching.
What is colon cancer?
Colon Cancer and rectal cancer, which are usually lumped together and called colorectal cancer, begin with a growth called a polyp in the inner lining of either or both the colon or rectum walls. Not all polyps become cancerous.
Like with hemorrhoids, the older you get, the more likely you are to develop colorectal cancer. 90% of all new cases of colon cancer are in people who are 50 years of age or up. This is not to say younger people are not at risk, but it is uncommon (unless there’s a family history) of anyone under 30 getting colorectal cancer.
In all honesty, modern medicine doesn’t know what causes cancer. There are risk factors though. Age is one of them, as well as family history, as discussed above. Also, being obese increases your risk. Smoking and heavy alcohol drinking makes colon cancer more likely. Like with hemorrhoids, sitting for long periods of time can lead to developing cancer.
These are the warning signs (besides blood in the toilet) to look out for:
- Excess gas
- Change in bowel habits (when you go & frequency)
- Abdominal pain
- Change in shape of stool (narrower than normal stool)
- Dark colored stool
- Unintended weight loss
Even if you have these symptoms, in most cases, it’s not indicative of having cancer. Only through blood tests or a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy can that diagnosis be made. Do not panic.
To reiterate, the one thing you have to do when you see blood is seek medical attention. Even though hemorrhoids are largely not dangerous or life threatening, left unchecked, it can lead to anemia. That has its own set of complications.
If you need peace of mind between the onset of symptoms and the time you can see a healthcare professional, take advantage of the several tests offered by Walk-in Lab. We offer quick turnaround on results and complete confidentiality.