Knowing the Difference Between Symptoms of IBS and Colon Cancer

Published June 24, 2024 by

Knowing the difference between symptoms of IBS and colon cancer might save someone from a lot of anxiety, and more importantly, give them a longer life to enjoy. If you are having some unusual changes to your bowel habits, review these differences and then follow up by making an appointment with GI Solutions of Illinois.

Common Symptoms of Both Conditions

Unfortunately, there are some symptoms associated with both IBS and colon cancer, and indications that you might have colon cancer often show up later than IBS. That fact makes it all the more important to know the difference.

Some of the common indications of both conditions include cramps, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, along with noticeable changes in a person’s bowel habits. These symptoms could be signs of either condition, which is why all people are advised to complete regular screenings for colon cancer.

How Colon Cancer Develops

Colon cancer begins with small polyps in the intestine. When they are small, there are few if any symptoms at all. These polyps, however, can gradually mutate into cancerous cells.

There is a five year 92% survival rate if colon cancer is caught in its early stages. The rate drops if caught later. To be safe, begin having screenings at age 45 unless you have other risk factors that may warrant diagnostic testing at a younger age.

How To Tell the Difference

Although many of the same symptoms can be present with both IBS and colon cancer, there are some additional warning signs of colon cancer. A persistent change in bowel habits is the most important signal. Others include:

  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Change in the consistency of the stool or a narrow stoolman having stomach pain.
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
  • A feeling that you have not finished or emptied your bowels
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Frequent gas pains
  • Anemia from blood loss

If any of these symptoms last for more than a few days, you should seek an appointment with board-certified gastroenterologist Dr. Jonathan Erlich for further evaluation.

Additional Risk Factors for Colon Cancer

If you find yourself on this list below, you are at a higher risk for colon cancer, and you might want to begin screening earlier and more frequently than what is recommended for the general population.

As you age, you are put at an increased risk to develop colon cancer, although in the last decade more young adults are being diagnosed with this particular condition. If you are African-American, have chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, your risk also increases. Other risk factors to consider include:

  • Having a family history of colon cancer
  • A personal history of colon polyps or colon cancer
  • Eating a high fat and low fiber diet
  • Engaging in a sedentary lifestyle
  • Being overweight
  • Smokers and those who drink alcohol excessively
  • Radiation therapy in the abdominal area for previous cancers
  • Diabetes

Schedule a Screening in Chicago, IL

There is no doubt that routine colorectal cancer screenings are all-important. Contact board-certified gastroenterologist Dr. Jonathan Erlich at (773) 631-2728 to schedule a screening in Chicago, IL, especially if you are experiencing any symptoms of IBS or colon cancer.


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