Certain ailments like arthritis or back pain can be discussed at the dinner table without offending anyone. But you can’t get away with talking about hemorrhoids or colorectal cancer. These two conditions are definitely taboo when it comes to mealtime conversation.
We definitely need to create an environment that allows for open discussion about hemorrhoids and colon cancer because they are common occurrences and they are often confused for one another. Five percent of the American population will develop colon cancer during their lifetime, and 4.4 percent of Americans are affected by hemorrhoids. Let’s discuss the similarities and differences between hemorrhoids and colon cancer so you can easily differentiate between the two.
Hemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels in the anal and rectal wall. When the rectal veins and surrounding tissues become inflamed, they often enlarge and protrude. Hemorrhoids can be either internal or external, but both types may bleed. If left untreated, hemorrhoids could cause anemia, infection, itching, anal spasm, increased pain, ulceration, abdominal pain, and discomfort when sitting down or lying down.
Specific conditions or activities can cause hemorrhoids to develop, and these same circumstances may aggravate existing hemorrhoids and cause flare-ups:
- Sedentary work and lack of exercise
- Constipation and straining
- Lifting heavy objects
- Spicy food
Unfortunately, I became well-acquainted with hemorrhoids when I was pregnant with my four kids. Pregnancy brought on new sets of aches and pains I had never experienced before, and hemorrhoids were some of the worst discomfort I felt. Hemorrhoids can be classified as mildly annoying to extremely painful. I guess the only good thing about hemorrhoids is that they often go away when the source of pressure and stress are no longer present—which for me was after the delivery of each baby. So, although hemorrhoids may inconvenience you or limit your activity level, they are generally not considered harmful and are certainly not fatal. Some easy ways to prevent hemorrhoids are to avoid lifting heavy objects, exercise regularly, eat a high-fiber diet and avoid straining when using the restroom. Sometimes hemorrhoids are unavoidable, but you can try to prevent flare-ups that will cause them to become worse.
Colorectal cancer can also cause rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, but it is from an entirely different source. The bleeding is from a malignant tumor in the colon or the rectum. Colorectal cancer begins with a small cluster of benign cells called a polyp. If the polyp is not removed during a colonoscopy, it can develop into cancer. Symptoms of colorectal cancer may include:
- Thin, pencil-like stools
- Blood in the stool, or dark tarry stools
- Changes in bowel habits such as diarrhea or constipation
- Weight loss and extreme fatigue
- Abdominal pain, cramping, and possible nausea and vomiting
- Full feeling in the abdomen
Unlike hemorrhoids, colon cancer claims the lives of thousands of Americans each year. In fact, it is the third-leading cause of cancer death among men and women. Colorectal cancers are most often diagnosed in individuals over the age of 50, but young onset colorectal cancer incidence is rapidly increasing. This disease is also unique in that family history and syndromes like familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer can also contribute to your risk. The best way to prevent colorectal cancer or decrease your risk for the disease is to eat a high-fiber, low-fat diet, exercise regularly, avoid smoking, limit your alcohol intake, and get screened regularly for colon cancer. Most adults who are at average risk for colorectal cancer are eligible for a screening colonoscopy at age 50, but get screened earlier if you are at higher risk for the disease.
Because of the serious nature of colorectal cancer, it is extremely important that you make an appointment with your doctor right away if you experience rectal bleeding, abdominal pain or changes in bowel habits. Hemorrhoids and colorectal cancer have often been mistaken for each other and misdiagnosed, so don’t take any chances. A doctor will be able to help you get relief if you have hemorrhoids or will refer you to a gastroenterologist if you need a colon screening.
Hemorrhoids vs. Colon Cancer