You Asked: Is It Just Irritable Bowel Syndrome Or Colon Cancer? How To Tell The Two Apart

Lifestyle & Health

April 25, 2018 11:49 By Fabiosa

Some people who are experiencing abdominal pain and digestive issues may wonder: "Is it something I ate? Or is it something more serious, such as irritable bowel syndrome or colon cancer?" Abdominal discomfort and digestive problems should always be taken seriously, but don't jump to conclusions just yet.

There are plenty of possible causes of GI symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain; colorectal cancer and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are just two of them. Symptoms of these two conditions partially overlap, but causes and risk factors differ greatly, and treatment is also different.

And let's get one thing straight: IBS does not increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

READ ALSO: Colon Cancer: Symptoms, Who Is At Risk, And How One May Prevent This Condition

Symptoms of colorectal cancer and IBS

Colorectal cancer usually produces no symptoms in the beginning. Symptoms of the disease tend to become apparent when it has already progressed, and they get worse over time.

Symptoms of IBS make their presence known from the start. They may range from mild to severe and may come and go. Also, they may be triggered by stress, certain foods, and hormone fluctuations.

Symptoms present in both IBS and colorectal cancer include the following:

  • diarrhea or constipation, sometimes one alternating with the other;
  • abdominal pain, cramps, and bloating (in case of IBS, these symptoms are usually relieved after bowel movement);
  • excess gas.

Symptoms characteristic of colorectal cancer, but not IBS, include the following:

  • rectal bleeding (blood in stool);
  • persistent weakness and fatigue;
  • a feeling of fullness in the bowel, even after making a bowel movement.

Risk factors of colorectal cancer and IBS

Colorectal cancer is more common in people older than 50 and slightly more common in men than in women.

Factors that increase the risk of the disease include the following:

  • smoking and alcohol use;
  • obesity;
  • diabetes;
  • a diet high in fat and low in fiber;
  • lack of physical activity;
  • having a close blood relative who has or had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer;
  • inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis);
  • in women, having had breast cancer or cancer of the reproductive organs;
  • radiation therapy to the pelvis and/or abdomen;
  • certain inherited disorders, such as Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).

READ ALSO: 4 Warning Symptoms Of Colon Polyps, Growths That May Lead To Cancer

Irritable bowel syndrome affects more women than men; women are twice more likely to develop IBS than men are. Also, IBS usually starts before age 50. Factors that make you more likely to develop IBS include the following:

  • having had a serious case of gastroenteritis (viral or bacterial infection of the stomach and/or intestines);
  • too forceful, long, or weak intestinal contractions;
  • imbalance in the gut microflora;
  • abnormality in nerve signals between the brain and the intestines;
  • a family history of IBS.

Stress, anxiety, and depression may play a role in developing IBS, but they are not a direct cause of the condition.

Treatment of colorectal cancer and IBS

Treatment of colorectal cancer depends on the stage. In some cases, when the cancer is found early, only a surgery to remove the tumor is needed. Other treatments, usually used for more advanced cancers, include the following:

  • surgery to remove part of the colon or most of the colon;
  • chemotherapy;
  • radiation therapy;
  • newer treatments, such as immunotherapy and targeted drug therapy;
  • treatment to relieve the symptoms of the disease.

Early detection of colon cancer is now possible thanks to colonoscopy and other screening tests.

IBS treatment focuses on diet changes to relieve the symptoms of the condition. In mild IBS, certain changes in diet, such as eating more fiber and excluding aggravating foods, may be the only treatment needed. Other treatments and ways to relieve symptoms of IBS include the following:

  • increasing physical activity;
  • laxatives for constipation and antidiarrheal drugs for diarrhea;
  • anticholinergic medicines;
  • antidepressants;
  • painkillers.

In some cases, psychotherapy is also recommended.

To sum up, abdominal discomfort and other digestive symptoms should never be taken lightly, especially if these symptoms are persistent. If you have symptoms mentioned in this article, schedule an appointment with your doctor to find out what's causing them.

Source: EMedicineHealth, Mayo Clinic (1), Mayo Clinic (2)

READ ALSO: Know The Signs: 6 Red Flags Of Colorectal Cancer And 7 Dangerous Popular Myths About This Disease


This article is solely for informational purposes. Do not self-diagnose or self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for any harm that may result from using the information provided in the article.

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