If you happen to find blood in your stool, your mind will most likely jump straight to the most obvious conclusion: I have haemorrhoids. And in most cases, you would be right. However rectal bleeding is also a symptom of several much more serious diseases, including colon cancer. If blood appears in your stool, you should always consult a doctor, no matter what.
A number of other signs apart from rectal bleeding often accompany both haemorrhoids and colon cancer.
Internal haemorrhoids commonly present themselves with no symptoms at all, and are only discovered when blood appears in the stool during a bowel movement. If the haemorrhoid prolapses through the rectum into the anus, the sufferer may begin to experience a great deal of itchiness and sometimes pain. Haemorrhoids can also cause the sufferer to experience a constant feeling of needing to use the toilet (known as tenesmus). When a haemorrhoid becomes prolapsed, it can usually be felt as a lump expending out through the anus which can be pushed back in.
Colon cancer symptoms are usually quite different and more varied. Those with the condition will experience fatigue and have pale skin caused by anaemia. It will causes changes to occur in bowel movements as a tumour grows inside the colon.
If the colon tumour reaches a certain size, it can cause a bowel obstruction. If this occurs, the sufferer may experience abdominal distension, when the belly protrudes out further than usual with no associated weight gain. There may also be a degree of abdominal pain, though this would be unusual in the case of colon cancer. Sufferers may also experience inexplicable nausea and vomiting, as well as unexplained weight loss and a change in how often they need to use the toilet. They may also find that their stool becomes very narrow or they become constipated.
Colon cancer is normally diagnosed in most cases around 3 and a half months after symptoms first begin to manifest.
Haemorrhoids are most often caused when endue pressure is exerted on blood vessels in the rectum and anus, causing haemorrhoids to inflame, dilate and swell as blood struggles to drain from them. This often leads to rectal bleeding.
There are a number of circumstances in which pressure is increased on blood vessels in the rectal and anal regions, leading to the appearance of haemorrhoids. While colon cancer can sometimes contribute to the occurrence of haemorrhoids, it’s rarely the root cause.
In most cases, excessive straining during a bowel movement or series of bowel movements causes haemorrhoids to appear. This often happens when an individual is suffering from diarrhoea or constipation, and can also be caused by too much time spent sitting on the toilet, or just be sitting too much in general (take walking breaks if you work in an office).
Other causes of haemorrhoids include a poor diet with low fibre, obesity, lack of regular exercise, disease of the liver, bowel disease, pregnancy, spinal cord injury of anal intercourse.
Colon cancer normally derives from adenomatous polyps, which are made up of excessive numbers of cells growing in the glands on the inner wall of the colon. After a while, these growths enlarge and then degenerate, becoming adenocarcinomas. Certain individuals retain a genetic abnormality called familial adenomatous polyposis syndrome which increases their risk of developing cancer of the colon.
Other factors can also increase a person’s risk of developing colon cancer. These include having breast, uterine or ovarian cancer previously, having ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, or having a history of colon cancer in the family. If someone has a first-degree relative with colon cancer, such as a parent or sibling, the risk of contracting the disease increases two to three times.
However, there are also a few additional factors which can make someone more likely to develop colon cancer. Firstly, if your diet is poor and you exercise infrequently, you’re more likely to suffer from it at some stage. Eating fibre-rich food like fruit and vegetables can help lower your chances of getting colon cancer, and cancer in general. Those who are obese, smoke or take drugs are all more likely to get colon cancer than those who don’t.
When to call the doctor
Haemorrhoids normally present very few symptoms, and those that do appear are not extreme, unless the haemorrhoids themselves become thrombosed. If you begin to develop any or all of the following symptoms, however, you should speak to your doctor immediately:
- The frequency or nature of your bowel movements changes noticeably
- You see bright red blood in your stool, on the toilet bowl, or on toilet paper after wiping
- You begin to lose weight for no apparent reason
- You feel pain in your abdomen, or your belly swells abnormally
- You experience a sensation of incomplete evacuation following a bowel movement
- You inexplicably vomit or feel nauseated on a frequent basis
If you experience the above symptoms, arrange to see your doctor as soon as possible, as they could be signs that you have colon cancer. However, if you experience the following symptoms, you should go straight to A&E:
- A large amount of blood expels from your rectum and you suddenly feel weak and/or dizzy
- You experience severe and inexplicable pain in your belly or groin area
- You vomit profusely and can’t keep any fluids down
In the case of haemorrhoids, there are certain instances in which you should speak to your doctor as soon as possible. If you see blood in your stool, you should never brush it off – though it may be a case of very-treatable haemorrhoids, there’s also a real chance it could be a sign of colon cancer or bowel disease. Rectal bleeding should always be cause for concern.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry if you experience anything that you suspect may be either haemorrhoids or a form of cancer – if you’re worried at all, go straight to your doctor.