The main warning signs of anal cancer are rectal pain, itching and bleeding, as well as changes in bowel movements, such as unusually narrow stools. Hemorrhoids, which are painful clusters of inflamed veins in the rectum and anus, can produce many of the same symptoms as anal cancer. While hemorrhoids are not usually a precursor to cancer – and are far more common – these symptoms should still be promptly brought to the attention of a physician, who can pinpoint the cause and provide an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment, if necessary.
What causes hemorrhoids?
Rather than having one specific cause, hemorrhoids usually result from the interplay of several factors, which may include:
- Straining during bowel movements
- Sitting on a toilet for a prolonged period of time
- Pregnancy (an enlarged uterus can press on nearby veins)
- A low-fiber diet
- Chronic diarrhea or constipation
A common denominator of many of these factors is the potential for interference with blood circulation to the rectum and anus. As blood pools in this area, it can cause blood vessels to become enlarged and inflamed. Also, the connective tissues that provide support to veins can weaken over time, allowing the veins in the rectum and anus to bulge outward. For this reason, the likelihood of developing hemorrhoids increases with age.
At Moffitt Cancer Center, we take the signs of anal cancer very seriously, and so should you. We encourage you to discuss your symptoms with a member of the multispecialty team in our Gastrointestinal Oncology Program, and you don’t need a referral to do so. We’ll begin the diagnostic process right away, and if you are ultimately diagnosed with anal cancer, we can create an individualized treatment plan that’s appropriate for you.