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Let’s Talk About It: Is It Hemorrhoids or Something More?

March 02, 2023

Who wants to discuss the topic of hemorrhoids? Almost no one. But with colon cancer rates on the rise, especially among younger people, it is critical – perhaps even life-saving – that we talk about “taboo,” awkward, bathroom behavior-related topics and symptoms. What you think is simply a hemorrhoid could be something far more serious.

That’s why being open and candid with a trusted healthcare provider is so important, particularly if you are experiencing new concerning symptoms like blood in a bowel movement, the sudden appearance of lumps at the anal opening, or unexplained abdominal pain. It may be just a case of hemorrhoids, but it is important to involve your physician as soon as possible to confirm that or determine if it is a more serious issue like colorectal cancer, which is the third most common cause of cancer deaths in both males and females in Texas.

Similar Symptoms, Different Diagnosis

Hemorrhoids are swollen or inflamed veins which can form inside the anal canal or swell externally near the opening of the anus. Hemorrhoids affect approximately 1 in 20 people, and while the exact cause is unknown, common factors such as chronic constipation or diarrhea, pregnancy, aging, straining during bowel movements, overuse of laxatives or enemas, and obesity can contribute to their development.

Symptoms of hemorrhoids like bleeding, itching, pain, or sensitive lumps around the anal area, are similar to those of colorectal cancer, which may include a change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, abdominal pain, weight loss, and fatigue. Hemorrhoids tend to flare and then go away, but if the bleeding is constant and progressive or a combination of both pain and bleeding, it could be something more. It can be hard to tell the difference, so it is important to consult with a primary care physician, gastroenterologist or a colorectal surgeon, who is trained in diagnosing and treating diseases like colorectal cancer.

Colorectal Cancer in Younger People Is on the Rise

In 2023, an estimated 12,220 new cases of colon and rectal cancer and 4,350 deaths are expected in Texas. While the risk of colorectal cancer increases after the age of 45 in both men and women, over the past 25 years, colorectal cancer cases among those in their 40s have increased by 51%. Risk factors such as obesity, diets that contain large amounts of red and processed meats, lack of physical activity, certain bacteria in the gut, and smoking could be responsible for the rise in earlier onset of this disease.

Why Screenings for Colorectal Cancer Are Important

The best way to determine if the issue is just hemorrhoids or something more is through regular screenings such as colonoscopies. More than 20% of adults over 45 have not been screened for colorectal cancer, despite being at a higher risk due to age.

Colorectal cancer has better outcomes when it is prevented by removal of colon polyps, or successfully identified and treated in its earliest stages. The five-year survival rate for early-stage colorectal cancer found before the cancer spreads is 91%. However, only 39% of cancers are identified in this early stage.

Colorectal cancer patients often show little to no symptoms in the early stages. As the disease advances, more aggressive treatment may be needed. Anyone age 45 years and older at average risk should be screened. If there is a family history of colorectal cancer, physicians may suggest screening at an earlier age.

Have the Discussion About Hemorrhoids and Colorectal Cancer

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It is an ideal time to get educated and have a conversation with a healthcare provider, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Finding ease in talking about topics like hemorrhoids and colorectal cancer may in fact save a life.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.