Colon Cancer or Hemorrhoids? See Your Doctor to be Sure

All too often, people assume that issues “back there” must be hemorrhoids, and they just try to grin and bear it until the piles go away on their own. There are two reasons this can be a problem:

  • Hemorrhoids do not always go away on their own; and
  • The symptoms could point to a much more serious condition

Hemorrhoids are much more common than colon and rectal cancers, but it is still best to be sure you rule out cancer as well as serious hemorrhoid complications.

It Is Important to Take Care of Your Health

If you are only having minor symptoms and you believe it may be piles, you can try conservative at-home treatments for a few days to see if they help. These may include:

  • Sitting in a shallow tub of warm water for a few minutes a few times a day (sitz baths)
  • Eating meals with higher fiber, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Increasing your water intake
  • Limiting time spent sitting on the toilet
  • Increasing exercise, even if it is just taking a few short walks a day

However, if you continue to have chronic constipation and/or diarrhea, have had a major change in bowel habits, or have rectal bleeding, we recommend you see a doctor as soon as possible. Do not ignore serious symptoms hoping they are just hemorrhoids and will go away on their own. We have seen too many cases of people who ignore their symptoms until things progress or serious complications develop.

They Can Share Symptoms

One of the most common complaints our patients have is blood in their stool or on the toilet paper after they have a bowel movement. This makes sense, because hemorrhoids are one of the most common conditions we diagnose and bleeding may be the most common symptom of piles.

Unfortunately, hemorrhoids are not the first thing most people think of when they see blood after going to the bathroom. And for good reason. It’s also one of the most common symptoms of colorectal cancer, diverticulosis, and a number of other intestinal issues.

In general, the blood will be on the stool for hemorrhoids and inside the stool for colon cancer. This is not a hard and fast rule, though. Every year, dozens of patients are misdiagnosed as having hemorrhoids when they really have both conditions.

This is why you want an experienced doctor who sees hemorrhoids and other colorectal complaints regularly. This is especially true if you have any other symptoms in addition to bleeding that may point to colon cancer, including:

  • A change in bowel habits
  • Thin, pencil-like stool
  • Excess gas, diarrhea, or constipation
  • Feeling like you need to go to the bathroom even after you do go

We recommend seeing a colon and rectal specialist about your symptoms to rule out anything more serious than hemorrhoids.

Know What to Expect When You See a Doctor

When you see your primary care physician or a colorectal specialist, they will talk to you about your symptoms and try to get a good idea of what may be going on.

Your Doctor Will Want to Rule Out Serious Problems

In many cases, your doctor will have a good idea of whether or not your symptoms are from hemorrhoids or something more serious. Piles usually itch and burn, although they may have no symptoms aside from rectal bleeding. Cancer and other serious illnesses, however, may cause unexplained weight loss, fatigue, and other issues.

Even if they are fairly certain they know what is going on, your doctor will likely perform an exam. They will use an anoscope to view the hemorrhoidal tissue just inside the anus. They may actually be able to palpate external hemorrhoids.

If they still have questions about the cause of your symptoms – or if you are over the age of 50 and have not had a recent exam – they may recommend a colonoscopy to rule out cancer.

Take Action to Prevent Future Problems

Because piles are very common, there is a good chance you will receive a hemorrhoid diagnosis. Your doctor will offer you treatment options, most of which will give you relief within a few days.

You can also take action to prevent future problems – and these actions can reduce your risk of colon cancer, too. By eating a diet higher in fiber, including more whole grains and vegetables, exercising regularly even if it’s a moderately paced walk, and increasing your water intake, you can keep your bowels moving smoothly and keep your colon healthy. At the same time, preventing constipation means a greatly reduced risk of hemorrhoids.