Hemorrhoids are a common condition that affect about half of all people by age fifty. Although hemorrhoids are usually harmless, some worry that it may be a sign of colorectal cancer. While certain symptoms of hemorrhoids and colorectal cancer do overlap, it’s important to know how they are different, and how to take care of our bodies if experiencing symptoms.
What are Hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids affect millions of people worldwide. Also known as piles, hemorrhoids occur when blood vessels in the anus and/or lower rectum become swollen and inflammed. They can occur both internally and externally.
The most common causes of hemorrhoids include:
- Weakening tissues that occur with age
- Straining during bowel movements
- Chronic constipation or diarrhea
- Frequently lifting heavy objects
- Sitting for long periods of time
- Low fiber diets
Hemorrhoids cause a variety of symptoms. These symptoms may include:
- Lumps near your anus
- Anal ache or pain
- Rectal bleeding
- Rectal itching
While hemorrhoids can be uncomfortable, they are usually not serious. Hemorrhoids can be treated with lifestyle changes, over-the-counter medications, and – in rare cases – medical procedures.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer, or CRC, is a type of cancer that affects the colon or rectum. It usually starts from a growth or polyp, developing into cancer over time. CRC is a serious condition that can be life-threatening if not detected and treated early.
Most cases of colorectal cancer occur in people ages 45 and older, but the disease is increasingly affecting younger people. Each year, about 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with this disease and more than 50,000 die.
Colorectal cancer may develop without symptoms, or symptoms may include:
- Persistent abdominal discomfort
- Unexplained weight loss
- Changing bowel habits
- Weakness or fatigue
- Rectal bleeding
Unlike most cancers, colorectal cancer is often preventable with screening and highly treatable when detected early.
Is It Hemorrhoids, Colorectal Cancer, or Something Else?
Even though some of the symptoms of hemorrhoids and colorectal cancer are similar, it’s important to understand that they are two different conditions. Hemorrhoids by themselves are not a sign of colorectal cancer. Still, it is vital to know the similarities and differences so that you can stay in control of your health.
Both hemorrhoids and colorectal cancer can cause bleeding from the anus. Bleeding caused by hemorrhoids is usually bright red and occurs during or after a bowel movement. CRC-related bleeding can be either dark or bright red and can occur at any time.
Persistent bowel discomfort may be another symptom that is hard to differentiate. While it may be a sign of either hemorrhoids or CRC, it could also be caused by inflammatory bowel disease, or a variety of other medical conditions. The only way to be certain is to speak to your healthcare provider right away.
No Matter What, Speak to Your Doctor
Untreated hemorrhoids can lead to infection and other health complications, while untreated CRC can lead to the spreading of cancer and even death. The good news is that both hemorrhoids and colorectal cancer are highly treatable.
CRC has high survivorship rates if detected early, and hemorrhoids can be easily treated with over-the-counter medications or simple procedures. It is imperative that you speak to your doctor if experiencing symptoms of either condition.
The Alliance Seeks to Break Down Stigmas
Here at the Alliance, we understand that talking about your bowels can be uncomfortable. Still, we know that the consequences of leaving symptoms unaddressed can be life-threatening.
Hemorrhoids are a highly common condition experienced by millions of people each year. Additionally, colorectal cancer is the fourth most diagnosed cancer in the United States. It’s about time we broke down the sigma of talking about things that are all too commonplace.
While hemorrhoids are not a sign of CRC, some signs and symptoms of both may overlap, making it important to seek medical care right away. If you’re looking for more confidential support, reach out to one of the Alliance’s Patient & Family Support Navigators to help answer any lingering questions you may have.
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