Blood in the stool isn’t always colon cancer: here’s when to worry

Monday June 18 2018

Dr. Christopher Peterson

Dr. Christopher Peterson 

By Dr Chris

Dear readers, I hope you’re on the right track in reducing your risk factors for cancer; you’ve been eating high fibre and low fat foods, you’re maintaining body fitness and weight is under control and that you’re regularly attending your cancer screening. Good! Kudos to you all for always staying informed by making sure that you do not miss cancer information that I always pin on this column. It’s encouraging to witness that this space has played a huge role in raising cancer awareness.

Yet everyone still dreads that “blood in the stool” scenario. The concept that a bloody stool that lasts for a time is cancer, is one of the most common colon cancer myths, probably arising from fear and lack of information.

Well, early last year in this column I talked about key cancer warnings that should NEVER be ignored and when it comes to colon cancer particulary, we see a blood in the stool is a one of the KEY colon cancer warnings. Yes it is! But if you experience persistent blood in the stool that doesn’t quit however, don’t panic.

The good news is that while blood in the stool may be one early symptom, as lower as only 2 per cent of patients who present with bloody stool turn out to have colon cancer.

Whenever you discover you’re bleeding, it gets your attention. And it’s often easy to find the source of the blood. But when it’s rectal bleeding the source isn’t so easy to pinpoint. And this can make anyone worry. However, rectal bleeding comes in various forms that are quite different from cancer.

In most cases, colon cancer does not cause any symptoms and is found incidentally during a routine colonoscopy. If a person with colon cancer does have symptoms, those symptoms will depend on the location of the tumour in the large intestine. That’s why regular check-ups always matter.

The very common factor that can trigger bloody stool is what we call hemorrhoids. It’s obvious that any one can have hemorrhoids inside and outside of the anus. Sometimes they get irritated due to some reasons; so if you notice blood in the stool, plenty of factors may lie behind that may include; constipation, severe diarrhoea, diet with low fibre, heavy lifting, and hard stools.

Apart from hemorrhoids and cancer itself, bloody stool can be caused by anal fissures. An anal fissure is a small tear in the thin, moist tissue (mucosa) that lines the anus. An anal fissure may occur when you pass hard or large stools during a bowel movement. Anal fissures typically cause pain and bleeding with bowel movements. You also may experience spasms in the ring of muscle at the end of your anus (anal sphincter).

Anal fissures are very common in young infants but can affect people of any age. Most anal fissures get better with simple treatments, such as increased fibre intake or prescription. Some people with anal fissure may need medication or occasionally surgery.

However, it is helpful if you can make a note of how long you have been experiencing rectal bleeding. And your doctor will always want to know some other important information from you such as pain, colour of blood and family history.

Like I always say, when it comes to cancer, early detection saves life. Plan to start regular colon cancer screening especially if you are above 30.