Anal Cancer And Hemorrhoids: What’s The Difference?

Anus cancer and hemorrhoids are two distinct conditions that can cause similar symptoms and confusion for many people. It’s important to understand the differences between these two conditions so you can seek the appropriate treatment and care. 

In this article, we will discuss the differences between anus cancer and hemorrhoids, including their causes, symptoms, and treatments. 

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Symptoms of hemorrhoids versus anus cancer

Hemorrhoids, also called piles, are swollen veins in the lower rectum and anus area. Nearly 75% of all American adults will experience hemorrhoids in their lifetime, making it a very common medical condition.¹

The primary symptoms of hemorrhoids are painful or uncomfortable bowel movements, significant itching, and blood in stools or from around the anus. In the case of prolapsed internal hemorrhoids, you may also be able to feel a soft protrusion from the anus.

Anal cancer is cancer located in or around the anus or colon. Anal cancer is significantly different from hemorrhoids, although their symptoms do somewhat overlap.

Bleeding is the most common symptom that is shared by anal cancer and hemorrhoids. Other shared symptoms include blood mixed in with the stool, painful or uncomfortable bowel movements, or tenesmus — the feeling of needing to have a bowel movement when there is no actual need.

Anal cancer may also cause symptoms like unexplained weight loss, bowel obstructions, anemia (from blood loss), and significant fatigue. These symptoms are not common in cases of hemorrhoids, so if you have some or all of these, you should speak to your doctor.

Causes of hemorrhoids

There are several possible causes of hemorrhoids, including chronic diarrhea or constipation, a diet low in fiber, obesity, too much straining during a bowel movement, or sitting for prolonged periods of time.

While hemorrhoids are relatively common, the wide range of possible causes can make it difficult to nail down the root cause in a specific case.

Causes of cancer

Cancer refers to one of a large number of disease conditions in which abnormal cells grow and divide in an uncontrolled manner. These cells can invade surrounding tissues, interfering with the normal function of blood vessels, organs, or tissues.

The causes of cancer are numerous. These include smoking, radiation, viruses, significant obesity, contact with cancer-causing chemicals called carcinogens, hormone imbalances in the body, genetics, and chronic inflammation. 

Diagnosing hemorrhoids and cancer

A doctor can diagnose hemorrhoids with a visual or digital examination. Your doctor will examine the affected area and determine if you have hemorrhoids or a different condition.

In the case of internal hemorrhoids, your doctor may insert one finger inside the anus to feel for abnormal growth. While this is not a comfortable activity for most, lubrication can make it relatively inoffensive.

Diagnosing cancer can only be done by examining cells of the suspicious tissues. Your doctor will need to cut a little piece of the tissue out and send it to the lab for investigation, where scientists will look at the cellular structure under a microscope. 

The excision of tissue for cancer diagnosis is usually a pain-free process due to the use of numbing agents like lidocaine.

Treatment for hemorrhoids

The best treatment for hemorrhoids can vary based on your individual situation. Treatments also differ based on whether the hemorrhoids are internal or external and mild or severe. 

Creams and ointments are often recommended first to treat hemorrhoids due to their accessibility and ease of use. Over-the-counter (OTC) preparations may act as lubricants to reduce friction on hemorrhoids by bowel movements, or they may contain medications to reduce blood flow to the hemorrhoid. 

Some doctors also advise their patients to use moist wipes instead of toilet paper after a bowel movement. This reduces irritation that may be caused by the friction of toilet paper.

Relief from pain and itchiness is also a concern for hemorrhoids. OTC medication like acetaminophen may be prescribed to relieve pain, whereas itching may be relieved by a warm bath or a cotton pad with witch hazel. Your doctor may also prescribe a 1% hydrocortisone topical cream.

Home remedies

One of the best home remedies for hemorrhoids is a sitz bath. A sitz bath is a shallow bath of around three inches of warm water with half a cup of Epsom salts mixed in. This can relieve inflammation and help clean the area to relieve itching.

Hemorrhoids can also be treated at home with a cold compress. Applying cold water or an ice pack to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and itching. If you are using an ice pack, be sure to wrap it in a towel so that it’s cool to the touch, not freezing cold.

Those with hemorrhoids may also use a donut-shaped pillow to alleviate pressure on the area. Hemorrhoids can often be avoided by staying fit and eating a healthy, fiber-rich diet.

When to see a doctor

It may be time to see a doctor if you are having problems with blood in your stool, painful bowel movements, or severe itching around the anus. Your doctor can investigate the cause of your symptoms and provide you with sound advice on what to do next.

If you are noticing blood during or after bowel movements or are experiencing significant discomfort, you should see a doctor promptly. These symptoms may be either hemorrhoids or anal cancer, but a doctor can provide you with advice and relief either way.

The lowdown

Although they share some of the same symptoms, hemorrhoids and anal cancer are two very different conditions with very different causes and treatments. The process of diagnosis for the two conditions is also different, so it's best to speak to a doctor if you are concerned.

Frequently asked questions

Hemorrhoids vs. colon cancer: What are the differences?

Hemorrhoids are usually a chronic condition that can be bothersome but not life-threatening. In contrast, colon cancer is an abnormality on the cellular level that can be life-threatening and may require urgent medical or surgical evaluation. 

Colon cancer involves the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells, while hemorrhoids are merely the swelling of tissues in and around the anus region.

Are hemorrhoids a sign of cancer?

No, hemorrhoids are a medical condition that is entirely different from cancer. Cancer is uncontrolled growth by abnormal cells, whereas hemorrhoids are swollen tissues that cause painful and itchy sensations. Hemorrhoids cannot cause cancer.

Are hemorrhoids and colorectal cancer related?

No, hemorrhoids and colorectal cancer are entirely unrelated. They have a few symptoms that may overlap, such as rectal bleeding, but they are completely different. They don’t cause one another, nor does having one of them increase your risk of developing the other.

Can hemorrhoids lead to colon cancer?

No, hemorrhoids can’t cause colon cancer. The two conditions may share some of the same symptoms, like bleeding and discomfort, but they are caused by entirely different situations.

Do bleeding hemorrhoids mean cancer?

No, bleeding hemorrhoids don’t mean you have cancer. Colon cancer can cause rectal bleeding, but hemorrhoids also commonly cause bleeding with no relation to colon cancer.

What are the early warning signs of bowel cancer?

The three primary symptoms of bowel cancer are blood in the stools, changes in bowel habits, and pain in the abdominal region. If you are noticing some or all of these, it may be a good idea to speak to your doctor.

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