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IBS Vs. Colon Cancer: Differences Worth Knowing

Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS and colon cancer are two different conditions but share common symptoms which make it very difficult for a normal person to differentiate between the two conditions. IBS is a common gut disorder than can affect an individual of any age group. Colon Cancer on the other hand is a much severe condition.

The diagnosis for IBS requires evaluation of the colon and clinical testing of colon. On the other hand, Colon cancer is diagnosed by conducting a test called as colonoscopy. It is important to note that IBS may occur along with colon cancer. Thus, it can be a big mistake to assume that you cannot have colon cancer if you are diagnosed with IBS.

IBS Vs. Colon Cancer

IBS vs. Colon Cancer: Differences Based on Signs and Symptoms

Given below is the list of symptoms of both IBS and Colon Cancer. By looking the symptoms, you can easily point the close similarity between the two conditions in terms of symptoms. Thus, it becomes very difficult to differentiate between the two conditions.

Signs and Symptoms for IBS:

Constipation and diarrhea occurring following each other in alternate manner

The symptoms of IBS last for a minimum of 3 days and can go on for as long as 3 months. In a few cases, they can be last for even more than 3 months.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer are as follows:

  • Constipation
  • Irregular or abnormal bowel movement
  • Pain in stomach
  • Lack of physical strength
  • Loss of body weight
  • Diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss.

IBS vs. Colon Cancer: Differences Based on Causes

Causes of IBS:

In the case of IBS, there are several factors that can lead to this situation. In some cases, repetition of gastroenteritis can lead to IBS. This in turn occurs as a result of foodborne illness such as viral infections. Some experts also suggest that allergy to certain food items can also lead to this condition.

Stress makes the symptoms of IBS worse but it certainly does not cause symptoms to appear. One of the biggest questions that most IBS patients have in mind is that can IBS lead to colon cancer in the future. There is no relation between the occurrence of two which simply means that occurrence of colon cancer is not related to IBS. It has been observed in a few cases that more than one member in a family is suffering from IBS. Thus, experts are trying to find out if there is any hereditary link.

Causes of Colon Cancer:

The exact cause of the Colon cancer is still not known. However, we know that the colon cancer occurs due to the defect in the DNA of healthy cells. This causes them to multiply even when there is no need of it and thus tumor is formed. In normal circumstances, new cells are formed to replace the damaged or dead cells.

IBS vs. Colon Cancer: Differences Base on Risk Factors and Complications

There are certain conditions that can increase the probability of occurrence of IBS and colon cancer. These are termed as risk factors. Let us look at the risk factors for both colon cancer and IBS.

The symptoms of IBS such as abdominal pain can come and go in some cases while persist in others.

The Risk Factors for IBS are as follows:

  • The risk of IBS is higher in people under 45 years of age
  • Female are at higher risk as compared to male
  • Allergy to certain food items
  • History of inflammation and gastrointestinal disorders.

Following are Risk Factors for Colon Cancer:

  • African American race – The statistics clearly suggest that higher number of cases of colon cancer have been reported in African American races.
  • A history of colon polyps can also increase the risk of colon cancer significantly
  • A history of inflammation in colon can also lead to colon cancer
  • Inherited syndromes – If someone in your forefathers or family had any colon disease, it can pass to others in the family.
  • Sedentary lifestyle –Lack of physical movement can also lead to cancer
  • Diabetes – Individuals suffering from diabetes especially those who have developed resistance to insulin are at increased risk of colon cancer
  • Obesity – If your weight is significantly more than the normal
  • Poor lifestyle involving drinking and smoking also makes a person more prone to the colon cancer
  • People who have received radiation therapy in the past for cancer treatment.

Colon cancer is a severe condition and can lead to various types of complications. Some treatment therapies for colon cancer such as biotherapy and chemotherapy can lead to certain other conditions such as vomiting, nausea, lack of resistance against infections etc. Some people can also develop a blockage in the intestine.

The IBS and Colon Cancer are two different conditions and you should get the diagnosis and treatment accordingly. IBS does not lead to colon cancer that does not mean you will never have colon cancer. Since the IBS and Colon Cancer symptoms are closely similar it is important to get proper treatment and correct diagnosis.


  1. Mayo Clinic – Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20360016
  2. American Cancer Society – Colorectal Cancer: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/about/what-is-colorectal-cancer.html
  3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases – Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrome
  4. National Cancer Institute – Colon Cancer: https://www.cancer.gov/types/colorectal/patient/colon-treatment-pdq
  5. Cleveland Clinic – Irritable Bowel Syndrome: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4059-irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs
  6. American Society of Clinical Oncology – Colorectal Cancer:https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/colorectal-cancer/symptoms-and-signs

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 8, 2023

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