Rectal Bleeding: Is it Hemorrhoids? Rectal Cancer?

Medically reviewed by: Gary H. Hoffman, MD

Rectal Bleeding. Common. Is It Hemorrhoids? Cancer?

Rectal bleeding is not uncommon, especially as we age.  The first time it appears, usually after a bowel movement, reactions range from nonchalance to absolute terror.  Is it cancer?  Is it hemorrhoids?

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Everyone has heard the old adage, “If it is bright red bleeding, it is not serious.  If it is dark red, it can be bad.”  While there is some truth to this, it is best to discard this not-so-wise saying.  It is better to see a colon and rectal surgeon, also known as a proctologist.  Get evaluated as soon as the first bleeding occurs.  Why?  So that you may sleep more soundly at night, with peace of mind.

What Are Hemorrhoids?

Hemorrhoids are collections of nerves, connective tissue, arteries, and veins.  There are usually three hemorrhoidal groups in the anorectum.  Hemorrhoids are a normal part of the human anatomy, and they serve to cushion the anal canal as stool passes through it.  When they enlarge, for whatever reason, they become symptomatic. Bleeding hemorrhoids may occur, often accompanied by bright red blood. They may also cause itching, pain, or discharge.

Colon, rectal or anal cancer is an overgrowth of the lining.  Cancer most often begins as a polyp.  Over time, if left undiscovered and untreated, it may grow larger and become malignant or cancerous.  Not all polyps become malignant.  But almost all cancers begin as a polyp; a polyp that can be discovered and removed with a routine colonoscopy beginning at age 45. Colorectal cancer may bleed, and the blood may be bright red or dark red.  Cancer usually does not itch, give off a discharge, or become painful (unless it is ignored and is found at a late stage.)

The Examination.  The Treatment.

If you live in a large metropolitan city such as Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, or other areas, you should see a colorectal surgeon ASAP.  Do not ignore rectal bleeding.  It may come and go, but do not let this reassure you as to its real nature.  Your surgeon will talk with you and examine you with a small anoscope or a slightly longer proctosigmoidoscope.  Both tests, when performed by a skilled proctologist, are painless and may yield answers.  If you are young, your doctor may ask you to try some topical creams and return for a visit shortly after the treatment.  If the bleeding continues, or if you are older, you will most likely be asked to have a colon evaluation, usually a colonoscopy.  This is performed as an outpatient at a surgical center under anesthesia.  Your colon and rectal surgeon will examine your entire colon and remove any polyps that are found, or take biopsies as necessary.  If you have hemorrhoids or another benign condition, you will be offered several treatment options.  If you have a malignancy, you will most likely be advised to undergo a laparoscopic or robotic removal of the affected portion of the colon or rectum.  If found early, you should do just fine.  This is why screening is so important.  It may be life-saving.

Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates

The surgeons at Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates are board-certified and will help you through this frightening time.  You will have your questions answered and your symptoms diagnosed and treated.  Your appointment is confidential.  Call (310)273-2310.  There is pre-appointment information and literature on the office website.

Do not ignore rectal bleeding.  The best way to cure cancer is to prevent it.

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