Symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and colon cancer are nearly identical.

In fact, they are so similar that I had to wonder if there was a way that a person, who is experiencing troubling symptoms that fit the bill for IBS — but also for colon cancer — can tell at home the likelihood that his symptoms point more towards IBS than colon cancer, or … dreadfully, point more towards colon cancer than irritable bowel syndrome.

The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are terrifying to anybody who experiences them and is familiar with the symptoms of colon cancer! They’re virtually the same!

Unfortunately, when it comes to if there are any ways that the patient at home can try to determine if his symptoms point more towards either irritable bowel syndrome or colon cancer:

“None — IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion and should only be made in my opinion after a full evaluation,” says Whitney Jones, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of Louisville, and Founder, Colon Cancer Prevention Project.

“Blood in the stool (obvious or found in fecal occult blood testing) always requires a structural evaluation (i.e., colonoscopy).”

Suppose a person develops IBS, but out of fear or lack of money, refuses to see a doctor.

Instead, he just hopes that the alarming gastrointestinal symptoms are indeed irritable bowel syndrome, vs. colon cancer.

He decides that as time goes on, if the symptoms don’t worsen, this makes it increasingly unlikely that it’s a malignancy.

He also decides that as long as new symptoms don’t arise, such as jaundice (possible sign that colon cancer has spread to the liver), that his condition is likely benign.

After a long enough time passage, with no worsening symptoms or unexplained weight loss, and still able to function quite well physically, a person in this situation may come to assume that whatever’s going on isn’t colon cancer.

After all, if a long enough time passage has occurred, he is likely to conclude that if it were colon cancer, it would have killed him already, or, at least, rendered him too sick to get out of bed.

This hypothetical situation will put the person through unspeakable anxiety.

Why not just get the colonoscopy for peace of mind, even if you have no insurance?

Dr. Jones explains, “All too frequently, patients have months or even years of symptoms attributable to IBS who are subsequently found to have colon cancer as the underlying cause. The ‘it’s better so I’m better’ strategy is not one I would recommend.

“Rather, if there are limited resources, I would seek out a public health care center or clinic and follow through with an evaluation by a health care professional.”

Warning: A person may very well have IBS, but then by sheer coincidence, develop colon cancer, and hence its symptoms.

A diagnosis of IBS should never make a person feel immune to colon cancer.

Too many people are walking around with a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome despite never having a colonoscopy to rule out some other cause such as colon cancer.

Dr. Jones says, “My recommendations are that if an improved high fiber diet, supplemental fiber and probiotics over 2-4 weeks do not improve symptoms, patients need evaluation by a digestive health professional.”

Anti-diarrheal or laxative agents should not improve symptoms of colon cancer.

“If we are going to catch some of these atypical earlier colon caners, we must lower the threshold for colonoscopic evaluation and strongly consider lowering the age at which we begin the discussions about colon cancer signs, symptoms, family history, to age 40, with colonoscopies recommended at age 45 for all.”

The argument against this is that colonoscopy is an invasive procedure with risks, namely perforation of the colon.

This is rare, however. Another argument is that colon cancer is rare in people under 50.

Of such patients, 12.4 percent are diagnosed between age 45 and 54. However, this low incident rate is of no consolation to these younger patients!

“I think this will be a hot topic ongoing in the future and like the new recommendations for breast and cervical cancer, will be debated in the public forum,” adds Dr. Jones.

“I favor finding the polyp and skipping the cancer. Previvor trumps survivor any day in my practice.”

IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) Symptoms

  • Abdominal pain/cramping
  • Feeling bloated
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Alternating diarrhea and constipation
  • Mucus in stool.
  • Symptoms may not respond medical treatment.

Additional symptoms

Change in stool caliber and consistency including stools that are hard, like pellets or pencil-thin.

After having a bowel movement, you may still feel incompletely voided. More symptoms: fatigue, backache.

Colon Cancer Symptoms

  • A change in stool caliber and consistency — including pencil-thin stools
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Alternating diarrhea and constipation
  • Abdominal pain/cramping
  • Gas
  • Sensation of incomplete voiding after a bowel movement
  • Fatigue
  • Blood in the stool

Blood in the stools or “tarry” stools is not common with IBS.

However, these symptoms don’t always occur with colon cancer, either.

Unexplained weight loss is another feature of colon cancer, but people with IBS can also experience weight loss from all the diarrhea.

Dr. Jones practice interests include prevention and treatment of colon cancers, pancreatic disease and biliary disease. He has authored numerous scientific articles, reviews and abstracts and presented at a variety of national and international scientific meetings. Colon Cancer Prevention Project.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and personal/cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  

 

Top image: Shutterstock/Dragana Gordic