Hematochezia Can Be a Symptom of Colon Cancer

Hematochezia Refers to Bright Red Bloody Stools

Medical illustration depicting the different stages of colon cancer.. Credit: Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

The passage of bright red, bloody stools (hematochezia) usually indicates the large intestine is bleeding somewhere. The most common causes are diverticulitis (inflamed pouches of the colon) and hemorrhoids (swollen veins in and around the rectum).

However, hematochezia can also be a symptom of colon cancer and a variety of other conditions. Examples include:

  • infection of the intestines (such as bacterial enterocolitis)

Hematochezia as a Symptom of Cancer

Tumors tend to bleed -- not a lot and not constantly, but they do bleed. As a result, some of that blood may show up in your stool. If the tumor is in the beginning of the colon, the blood will most likely be dry and virtually invisible by the time the waste leaves your body. However, if the tumor is in the rectum or toward the end of the colon, it may still be fresh, and therefore, bright red.

Medical Attention for Hematochezia

According to the National Institutes of Health, call your doctor if you notice blood or any changes in the color of your stool. Even if you think hemorrhoids are the culprit, it's better to skip the self-diagnosis and consult with a medical professional. While talking with your doctor, let him know if you've experienced any other potential symptoms of colon cancer and if so, for how long.

Diverticulitis: A Common Cause of Hematochezia

The term diverticulitis may sound complicated; however, this term is readily explained. Imagine that your colon, or large intestine, is a big tube. When a part of this tube is weak, an outpouching (evagination) forms. Diverticula (singular diverticulum) simply refer to these outpouchings.

Whereas, the term diverticulitis refers to infection or inflammation of these diverticula. Of note, diverticula can occur anywhere throughout the gastrointestinal tract, which taken as a whole, can also be viewed as a giant porous tube that permits passage of nutrients and waste products.

Diverticulitis typically affects people aged 40 years and older. Fortunately, most people with diverticula never experience diverticulitis.  In other words, most diverticula don't become inflamed or infected.

Here are some symptoms of diverticulitis:

  • change in bowel habits
  • nausea
  • fever
  • abdominal pain

Hematochezia can be a sign of diverticulitis. Of note, a sign is different from a symptom because a symptom is a subjective experience described by the patient whereas there is objective evidence of a sign. In other words, the bright red blood of hematochezia can be observed on defecation.

Please understand that diverticulitis is different from cancer. Diverticulitis is a benign (non-cancerous) condition which when mild is treated with antibiotics, dietary change and bed rest.

However, severe diverticulitis, or diverticulitis that recurs or comes back, can be treated with surgery.

If you're interested in learning more about hematochezia and related medical concepts, please check out the following articles:


"General Information About Colon Cancer." National Cancer Institute 10 Aug. 2007. Accessed 3 Sep. 2007 [http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/colon/patient].

"Hematochezia." Nature Clinical Practice. Accessed 3 Sep. 2007 [http://www.nature.com/glossary/clinicalpractice/defDetails.do?uid=ncp_1191].

"Medline Plus: Bloody or Tarry Stools." National Institutes of Health 25 Jul. 2007. Accessed 3 Sep. 2007 [http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003130.htm].

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