Is Rectal Pain a Sign of Colorectal Cancer?

Rectal pain, whether chronic or fleeting, is not something most people enjoy discussing with the doctor. There are two types of rectal pain, acute and chronic. Acute pain may occur following an injury or for unknown reasons, when it's textbook name is proctalgia fugax. Chronic rectal pain -- chronic proctalgia -- has many different causes and can last months or years. Acute rectal pain is not typically a sign of colorectal cancer, but a pain that persists or increases is well worth reporting to the doctor.


Proctalgia Fugax

Overall, this diagnosis is fairly rare and most physicians don't even use this name or diagnosis anymore. Imagine the worst charlie horse you've ever had in your leg or toes. Perhaps the pain was so sudden and uncomfortable that it woke you from sleep. Now, imagine that same charlie horse in your anus. The anus is the final portion of your rectum, where waste in the form of stool leaves your body. People who suffer from a fairly obscure condition called proctalgia fugax know exactly what discomfort I speak of -- it's a pain in the bum, quite literally.

The term proctalgia fugax roughly translates to fleeting rectal pain and there is no known cause of the condition. The pain has been described as "knife-like" and sharp, lasting mere seconds before relief is obtained. The good news is that this condition is not associated with any disease, nor does it increase your risk factor for colorectal cancer or other bowel disease.

The bad news -- the cause is as unknown as the treatment. There is no known treatment for this condition, due to the brevity of the symptoms.

Some sufferers state that the rectal pain from proctalgia fugax wakes them from a deep sleep. Other people state that the sensation is relieved by passing gas or a bowel movement.

We don't know what causes the spasms or medically how to stop them, only that they are reported to occur at any given time, and can happen daily or as sporadically as once a year. 

Statistically, this condition affects less than five percent of the population. However, there is a good chance that the symptoms are largely underreported due to embarrassment.

Talk to your doctor so that he or she can rule out any other causes of your acute rectal pain including:

After talking to your doctor there are some things you can try to reduce the frequency of spasms. A high fiber diet including raw plant foods might be of benefit. Some sufferers also report that gentle pressure on the anus can help decrease the severity of a spasm.

Chronic Proctalgia

Unlike the brief, self-limiting pains associated with proctalgia fugax, chronic proctalgia is a condition where the anal or rectal pain lasts at least 20 minutes or longer. Also dissimilar, chronic rectal pain is sometimes relatable to a cause, such as a tumor or mass in the anus or rectum.

The treatment of chronic rectal pain is almost always focused on the cause, if one can be isolated. Chronic anal pains should always be investigated by a doctor, as in rare cases the pain can be a sign of rectal cancer. Rarely, the pain is untreatable and related to spasms or tension on the pelvic floor -- the area that supports the rectum and anus.

Although anorectal pain syndromes are usually benign in nature, you should still talk to you doctor. He or she can perform a digital rectal examination and check for hemorrhoids, abscesses, or other findings out of the ordinary. Your doctor also may encourage you to schedule a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy for chronic rectal pain. 


American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. (n.d.). Anal Pain. Accessed online July 20, 2014.

Chiarioni, G., Asteria, C., Whitehead, W.E. (October 2011) Chronic Proctalgia and Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndromes: New Etiologic Insights and Treatment OptionsWorld Journal of Gastroenterology; 17(40): 4447-4455. Accessed online July 19, 2014.

Continue Reading