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Can hemorrhoids lead to colon cancer?

by Sonia Chartier, on 16 February 2017, Circulation

 co-written by Rick Olazabal, BSc, BN 

There is no reason to believe that hemorrhoids lead to colorectal cancer. However, the symptoms of hemorrhoids are often similar to those of colorectal cancer. Colon cancer and hemorrhoids are very different conditions that can produce blood in the stool.

For this reason, it is very important that you seek medical advice as soon as possible. This article will briefly explore some of your options.

What are hemorrhoids? 

Simply put, they are swollen veins in your rectum or anus. The type of hemorrhoid you have depends on where they occur:

Internal hemorrhoids:  involve the veins inside your rectum. You can’t feel pain in here. Bleeding or the feeling of fullness in the rectum are likely your only symptoms.

Prolapsed hemorrhoids: are internal hemorrhoids that have stretched down until they bulge outwards. Patients may feel a pinching sensation or feel a painless lump when wiping the area. They can be itchy and/or painful and can form clots. Bleeding is usually bright red.

External hemorrhoids:  involve veins outside your anus. They may crack and bleed from straining or rubbing. They can be itchy and/or painful, and just like prolapsed hemorrhoids, they can develop clots.

Can they lead to colon cancer?

Currently, there is no evidence that they lead to colon cancer. As mentioned, both conditions can have overlapping symptoms. Therefore, the belief that you have them could actually be a symptom of colon cancer. It may be worth noting that people of all ages can develop colon cancer, and most new cases of colon cancer are in people over the age of 50.

This is important, as individuals over this age (and those with a family history) should definitely go in for regular check-ups. If you experience rectal bleeding, no matter your age, seek medical attention immediately as it may be something more than just hemorrhoids. And remember, constipation can exacerbate rectal bleeding.

What are the symptoms?

Most people will treat the symptoms of hemorrhoids without medical advice and only seek medical attention when symptoms worse. Both internal and external hemorrhoids can cause rectal discharge (bright red blood) and itching.

The internal ones typically cause prolapse or painless rectal bleeding that is reported as blood on the toilet paper or bleeding associated with bowel movements. External ones can cause anal discomfort because of engorgement.

What can be done? 

First thing is first. If you’re experiencing any of the associated symptoms and/or rectal bleeding, go see your family physician or regulated naturopathic doctor. Once the appropriate tests are performed, they may recommend lifestyle medications that will focus on:

  • preventing constipation
  • including more fibre in your diet
  • drinking plenty of fluids (except alcohol)
  • avoiding straining
  • getting regular exercise

A healthcare provider may recommend the use of the following: 

  • a cream that contains witch hazel and/or horse chestnut extract, which can exhibit protective benefits to the integrity of blood vessels (e.g. may tonify blood vessels).
  • numbing ointment (e.g. topical anaesthetic)
  • creams that contain hydrocortisone can be used for itching or pain
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