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Hemorrhoids or Cancer? Why You Should See a Doctor When You Have Bleeding

Posted on 27 October 2018 by

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Hemorrhoids or Cancer? If you have any bleeding or issues in the anal area whatsoever the first thing you should do is see a doctor or physician immediately.

Having problems or abnormalities in your anal-rectal area can be mortifying, and you may think that you are alone in experiencing odd symptoms, like rectal bleeding or feeling bumps around your anus. 

You are not alone—in fact, nearly 10 million other Americans stand with you in experiencing signs and symptoms of hemorrhoids, a common disease that only 3.5 million seek medical attention for.

And if you're wondering if that scary bright red blood is a sign of cancer, know that the statistics from the American Cancer Society state that only 95,520 Americans will be diagnosed with colon cancer.  In reality, the numbers are in your favor (but you should still check in with your doctor anyway).

But let's get down to the nitty-gritty of what the symptoms of colon cancer consist of and what hemorrhoids are because although these are well-known issues, many of us don't know the difference or even what to look for.

Is It Hemorrhoids or Colon Cancer?

While the current numbers indicate that hemorrhoids are much more common than colon cancer in Americans across the country, the two are often confused with one another because symptoms are presented in nearly identical ways.

Doctors and patients must work together to discern the two to implement an accurate diagnosis and begin a useful approach for treatment.  Tests and examinations may be required to distinguish between colon cancer and hemorrhoids. 

While the majority of Americans do not seek medical advice from their doctors in concern with their hemorrhoids could be putting themselves at risk for worsening them.  Symptoms, when left untreated, can exacerbate over time, and hemorrhoids can become so unmanageable that surgical mediation could be required.

What are Hemorrhoids?

With millions of Americans experiencing hemorrhoids each year, it is essential to understand what this problem is, other than a difficult dinner table topic.  All of us have hemorrhoids, as they consist of a cushion of veins and vessels responsible for circulating the blood supply to the lower rectal and anal area. 

It's only when this collection of blood vessels become inflamed and aggravated that we refer to them as "having hemorrhoids." 

Hemorrhoids are under the skin around the anus, and they are also located inside the rectum.  To properly treat hemorrhoids, doctors have broken them up into two different categories—internal and external hemorrhoids. 

While both types are hemorrhoids and do share in similar symptoms, different treatment methods are needed to encourage them to shrink and prevent reoccurring flare-ups.

Symptoms of Hemorrhoids

External hemorrhoids present different symptoms than those of internal ones.  External hemorrhoids are located outside of the anal opening and form because the veins under the skin become inflamed and irritated.

This produces small bumps that to the touch feel resilient and a little rubbery.  Of course, depending on severity, these bumps can range in size, from dime-sized to peanut-shaped, and even more enlarged

An external hemorrhoid can show itself in many ways:

-Small bump(s) around the anal opening

-A blistering sensation around the anus

-Mild to intense itching, known medically as pruritus ani

-Thrombosis or blood clots that form inside of the external hemorrhoid

-Discomfort when sitting or standing

-Excess skin that remains after a ruptured blood clot

-Sharp pain

Internal hemorrhoids are rated based on a degree system.  Most people have a mild form of internal hemorrhoids, called first-degree hemorrhoids, which are asymptomatic or give way to pain-free rectal bleeding. 

It is essential to catch internal hemorrhoids early at this Grade I stage before a prolapse occurs.  Grade I hemorrhoids, or first-degree hemorrhoids, can be treated easily with a diet change or ligation therapy.

Prolapsed internal hemorrhoids occur in Grades II to IV.  The swollen hemorrhoid falls through the rectum at varying stages of severity.  As the prolapse progresses into a more serious nature, then doctors will often advise that their patients should seek surgical options for treatment. 

Symptoms of internal hemorrhoids can include:

-Itchiness, pruritus ani

-Small amounts of painless rectal bleeding

-Hemorrhoid emerging through the rectum in a stage of prolapse

-Difficulty and straining while using the bathroom

-Sitting and standing become uncomfortable

-A prolapse occurring during physical or strenuous activities

-Anal discharge

Internal and external hemorrhoids can form for many reasons.  As with other conditions and health disorders, lifestyle plays a significant role in hemorrhoid inflammation.  Diet, exercise, genetics, and age are all factors for hemorrhoids.  Often for hemorrhoid treatment, doctors will start off by recommending a change to a fibrous diet, getting more exercise, and drinking plenty of water.

What is Colon Cancer?

Colon cancer mostly begins as growths, called polyps, which form in the inner lining of the colon or rectum.  There are two main types of polyps, adenomatous polyps, growths that can become cancerous years later, and hyperplastic/inflammatory polyps, which are generally not considered precancerous. 

Colon cancer increases risk depending on the size of precancerous polyps if the polyps have grown into the surrounding blood vessels or lymph vessels, and how much these precancerous polyps have spread.  Colon and rectal cancer are defined by its progressive stages, based on the gastrointestinal attributes of tumor size, fibrous tissue, mucosa lining, muscle layer, and the interconnective tissue that covers the colon.

Hemorrhoids and colon cancer share similar risk factors, like obesity, diets, lack of exercise, age, and a genetic family history of colon cancer.  Because they are similar, this is why screenings and tests like colonoscopies are essential in preparing a correct diagnosis and treatment for either disease.

Symptoms of Colon Cancer

Hemorrhoids are usually a result of chronic constipation, straining, diarrhea, or pressure on the lower rectal muscles, like pregnancy and childbirth.  Colon cancer, however, can cause changes in bowel habits.  More often, when colon cancer first arises, you won’t be aware of it at all or see any symptoms. 

Symptoms of colon cancer can be similar to hemorrhoids, but they are more intense:

-Rectal bleeding that displays bright red blood

-Stools covered in dark colored blood

-Abdominal and intestinal pain or cramping

-Feeling weak or tired

-Sudden weight loss

-A change in toilet habits like constipation or diarrhea that lasts days at a time

While colon cancer does not happen as frequently as hemorrhoids, their shared symptoms should still be reported to your doctor.  Your doctor will decide if an examination is necessary to test for colon cancer.

Rectal Cancer Versus Hemorrhoids

Colorectal cancer (cancer that forms in the colon or the rectum) and hemorrhoids present themselves similarly, and both are easier to treat when caught early on.  The best way to be sure your symptoms are from hemorrhoids or an early sign of colon or rectal cancer is by consulting with a doctor and by having an examination or screening performed.

For colorectal cancer, screenings are done as a part of a way to check for cancer, even if there are no symptoms present.  Screening falls into two different tests, one test is stool-based and examines fecal matter to detect signs of cancer.  The other test is a visual exam that involves the use of a scope being inserted into the rectum, employing unique imaging to check for cancerous polyps.

Hemorrhoid testing is not as involved as colorectal screenings can be. Doctors will have their patients relay their symptoms, and if more information is needed, doctors can opt for a digital or visual examination. 

A visual inspection consists of your doctor using an anoscope or proctoscope to examine potential hemorrhoids.  A digital examination involves your doctor taking their gloved, lubricated finger and inserting it into the rectum to feel for any abnormalities. 

Although these screenings and examinations are essential to distinguish between the standard issue of hemorrhoids and the severe disease of colorectal cancer, your doctor will also take into account the different factors that lead to both problems.

Age, lifestyle, diet, weight, and exercise are all factors to consider in determining the cause of symptoms. Your doctor will also check to see if you have had a recent colonoscopy and if you have not, then by proceeding with this test your doctor will feel more secure in an effective treatment method.

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