Hemorrhoids vs. colon cancer: what are the differences?

Hemorrhoids vs. colon cancer: what are the differences?

Medically reviewed on February 22, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Noticing blood in the stool can certainly be an unsettling discovery. But while a bloody stool can be one of the warning signs of colorectal cancers, it’s also a possible symptom of hemorrhoids.

So how can you go about understanding the differences between the two conditions?

Hemorrhoids often manifest in the form of hard, sore lumps whereas colon cancer symptoms may include diarrhea, constipation, or weight loss. But there’s much more to know in regard to diagnosis and treatment. That’s why we’ve put together this brief guide to walk you through the differences between hemorrhoids and colon cancer. However, if you think you have either of these conditions, getting testing done such as with an at-home colon cancer screening test may be a good option.

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Signs of hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids happen when the veins around the anus or the lower part of the rectum become inflamed and swollen [1]. There are two different kinds of hemorrhoids:

  • Internal – Internal hemorrhoids form in the lining of the lower rectum and anus. They aren’t usually painful unless they become prolapsed, or bulge outward from the anus.
  • External – External hemorrhoids form under the skin surrounding the anus.

The signs of hemorrhoids vary, depending on which type they are. An internal hemorrhoid typically results from a bloody stool. Individuals who suffer from external hemorrhoids, however, might experience:

  • Itching around the anus
  • Hard, sore lumps near the anus
  • Rectal pain when sitting

While they can be very uncomfortable, hemorrhoids aren’t typically a serious health concern.

Signs of colon cancer

In contrast, colorectal cancers are very serious and require immediate medical attention. Colon cancer symptoms may include [2]:

  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
  • Cramps or abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • A feeling of still needing to have a bowel movement after having a bowel movement
  • Fatigue and general weakness
  • Unexpected weight loss

Fatigue and unexplained weight loss are two common symptoms of colorectal cancer that differ from other conditions with similar signs.

If you are curious to learn more on “What is colon cancer?” and how to keep your colon healthy, you can read our articles to learn more.

How are hemorrhoids diagnosed?

Hemorrhoids typically resolve with at-home treatment within a week or so. If hemorrhoid symptoms last for more than a week, you should visit your healthcare professional to rule out a more serious condition.

They can confirm that hemorrhoids are the cause of pain by a:

  • Visual examination
  • Digital rectal exam
  • Stool test

After diagnosis, there are several treatment options.

Treating hemorrhoids

Some of the most common hemorrhoid relief remedies include:

  • Over-the-counter creams
  • Fiber supplements
  • Soaking in a warm tub of water
  • Keeping the area clean

You can avoid a recurrence of hemorrhoids by ensuring enough fiber in the diet. This prevents straining to produce a bowel movement which can cause hemorrhoids. Drinking enough water can also help keep the digestive system regular.

How is colon cancer diagnosed?

Diagnosing colon cancer is more complicated than a hemorrhoid diagnosis. Depending on age, family history, and other risk factors, a healthcare provider may recommend that you begin colon cancer screening as early as your 45th birthday.

Colorectal cancers are diagnosed through one of the following screening procedures:

  • Fecal tests – A fecal occult test and a fecal DNA test are often used to screen for colon cancer. A fecal occult test looks for blood in the stool while a fecal DNA test screens for altered DNA that may indicate that cancer.
  • Colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy – Both colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies involve a small scope entering the colon through the rectum. A colonoscopy is more invasive as it travels through the entire colon. A sigmoidoscopy only enters the lower colon. These scopes allow your healthcare provider to check for colon polyps and other colon abnormalities.
  • Virtual colonoscopy – A virtual colonoscopy uses x-rays to take a series of images of the colon.

The right screening method for you will depend on your healthcare provider’s recommendation.

Treating colon cancer

If you are diagnosed with colon cancer, you should know that the disease is very treatable if caught early. Therefore colon cancer screening is critical.

Cancers are divided into stages based on the size and spread of the tumor or tumors in the body [3]. The stages range from 0 to IV. For colorectal cancers in stages 0 through II, most people will have surgery to remove the tumor [4].

In stage III, surgery might be accompanied by chemotherapy. Stage IV cancers are the most advanced and often require a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments to remove the cancer or stall its growth.

Colon cancer screening with Everlywell

Rectal bleeding or the presence of blood in your stool isn’t something you should ignore. However, now that you’re more informed about the differences between hemorrhoids and colon cancer, you’re better equipped to monitor your health—no matter what the cause. Whether it’s a benign case of hemorrhoids or a more serious health issue, be sure to communicate your symptoms to a healthcare professional.

If you want to stay on top of your health, or think you may be at risk for developing colon cancer, start with a simple, convenient, and noninvasive at-home colon cancer test from Everlywell. We help you monitor your wellness with our science-backed tests. All you have to do is collect your sample, mail it to one of our labs, and wait to receive your results within a few days.

We asked a Registered Nurse what you should know about colon cancer screenings—here’s what she said

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References

1. Hemorrhoids - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 22, 2022.

2. Colorectal Cancer Signs and Symptoms. American Cancer Society. URL. Accessed February 22, 2022.

3. Colorectal Cancer Stages. American Cancer Society. URL. Accessed February 22, 2022.

4. Colon cancer - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 22, 2022.

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