Unfortunately, hemorrhoids often result from a blend of different factors at play, such as chronic diarrhea, a low-fiber diet, pregnancy, obesity, and of course, excessive straining during bowel movements. However, sometimes, the symptoms you may end up associating with hemorrhoids alone may be a warning sign of a bigger problem.
Again, hemorrhoids don't usually act as precursors to conditions like cancer, but it's still important to bring your symptoms to a physician's attention, especially if they have caused you immense discomfort since the onset.
So, are hemorrhoids a warning sign of anal cancer? Here’s everything you need to know about it.
Warning Signs of Anal Cancer
Here are some of the primary warning signs of cancer to stay wary of:
- Changes in bowel movements
- Rectal pain
- Narrow stools
Now, you may wonder how one distinguishes between symptoms of hemorrhoids and anal cancer since most tend to be similar.
What Are the Key Differences Between Anal Cancer and Hemorrhoids?
Here are the key differences between the two.
Hemorrhoids are swollen veins inside your anus and rectum that tend to itch, hurt, become irritated, and also bleed. On the other hand, cancer results from elevated cell growth, which may cause a lump or growth in the anus or rectum. Some people also tend to use the terms anal cancer and colon cancer interchangeably. However, the latter does not result in bumps or lumps that can be felt with the hands.
Unfortunately, telling the difference between hemorrhoids and cancer may not always be possible, but there are surely a few tell-tale signs to determine whether the symptoms are caused by the former. Here are some of them:
- Your symptoms start getting better over the course of a few weeks without treatment
- Making small dietary changes such as incorporating more fiber is helping your symptoms fade with time
- Taking a sitz bath or applying hemorrhoid creams is helping you feel better
- There are risk factors such as obesity or pregnancy which may have caused the onset
- Symptoms aren’t consistently getting worse. They tend to come and go. There is no weight loss.
- You’re able to see a swollen vein by using a mirror
- You’re able to feel the bump or lump near your anus
Some factors may also contribute to an elevated risk of developing cancer, such as:
- Having a family history
- Crossing the age of 50
Nonetheless, speaking to a doctor is absolutely crucial, especially if you've experienced any drastic changes in your physical health. Treating cancer is easier in the early stages as compared to the later stages.
How Are Both Conditions Diagnosed?
Diagnosing hemorrhoids is simply a matter of noting down medical history and conducting a rectal exam. If your healthcare professional notices anything out of the ordinary, then they may urge you to get a biopsy done.
It's important to note that colon cancer, as opposed to anal cancer, is a lot more difficult to diagnose since the symptoms do not necessarily entail that the cancer is absent or present. Hence, your doctor may suggest getting tests based on different symptoms. For instance, they can ask whether hemorrhoid treatment has helped you experience relief from symptoms or not. They may also inquire in detail about the possibility of bleeding without hemorrhoids.
Colonoscopy is one effective way to determine if there are any growths or not. The procedure involves mild sedation followed by inserting a flexible and thin tube into your rectum. However, your health care professional may also carry out blood work to find out any relevant cancer markers in your system.
Do Hemorrhoids Lead to Anal Cancer?
For one, it's important to acknowledge that cancer is a rather complex condition that doesn't have one main cause. There are definitely a number of risk factors that contribute to its onset, such as being over a certain age, smoking, having a history of human papillomavirus, and any previous injuries to the anus. Again, some risk factors turn out to be quite similar to those that lead to hemorrhoids, such as being over a certain age, for example, but here's where it gets tricky. Hemorrhoid risk factors also tend to be similar to colon cancer risk factors such as:
- Having an unhealthy diet
- Having family history of the same type of cancer
Regardless, hemorrhoids leading to anal cancer is a rather vague possibility since there isn’t much research to prove it. However, mistaking anal cancer symptoms for hemorrhoids is surely a possibility since they do turn out to be quite similar during the onset.
Can You Treat Cancer Like Hemorrhoids?
Again, while the phase of onset tends to be similar, the progression of both hemorrhoids and anal cancer is vastly different. For one, the latter is a lot more severe and doesn’t get better with home remedies alone.
So, can you treat cancer like hemorrhoids? No.
You can expect hemorrhoids to be over on their own within a few weeks, but that definitely isn't the case with cancer. The treatment for cancer majorly depends on the location, stage, and type, as well as your overall physical health. Hence, the treatment options generally include:
- Medication (to alter or slow down the spread)
- Radiation of chemotherapy
- Interventions to deal with side effects of the condition as well as the treatment
The Bottom Line
In the end, it's safe to conclude that hemorrhoids don't necessarily lead to the development of anal cancer. However, the symptoms can appear to be the same in the initial stages. One key difference between the two is that hemorrhoids can be dealt with at home, but cancer only worsens over time, especially if left untreated.
Nonetheless, caution is key. Avoid leaving your symptoms to get better on their own and speak to a health care professional immediately, especially if home remedies haven’t been effective.