Hemorrhoids and anal cancer can share some symptoms, but they have distinct characteristics that can help you tell them apart.

Hemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels in the anus or rectum. Symptoms often include:

  • rectal bleeding
  • pain (with external hemorrhoids)
  • swelling around the anus

They are typically caused by increased pressure in the rectum.

Anal cancer is a rare form of cancer that can develop in the tissues of the anus. Possible symptoms may include:

  • rectal bleeding
  • pain
  • changes in bowel habits

It’s often associated with certain risk factors like an HPV infection, smoking, and a weakened immune system.

Here are the signs and symptoms of anal cancer and hemorrhoids, including other conditions that can feel like you have a lump in your anus.

While both anal cancer and hemorrhoids can cause the sensation of having a lump in the anal area, there are some differences between the two.

What do hemorrhoids look and feel like?

Hemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels in the anal or rectal area that may appear as small, soft lumps or bumps around the anus. There are two types of hemorrhoids: internal and external.

Internal hemorrhoids are inside the rectum, while external are outside the anus. The symptoms of hemorrhoids can vary depending on the type you have.

Possible symptoms of external hemorrhoids include:

  • itching and irritation around the anus
  • swelling and inflammation around the anus
  • visible lumps or bumps around the anus
  • bleeding during bowel movements
  • rectal pain or discomfort

On the other hand, symptoms of internal hemorrhoids include:

  • rectal bleeding
  • itching or irritation in the anal area
  • in more severe cases, internal hemorrhoids can protrude from the anus

What does anal cancer look and feel like?

Anal cancer is a rare form of cancer that develops in the tissues of the anus. It often starts in the cells lining the anus and can progress over time.

While the symptoms of anal cancer may vary, some common symptoms may include:

However, an anal cancer lump can sometimes be mistaken for hemorrhoids due to similar symptoms, so if your symptoms persist, consider speaking with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis.

There are several other medical conditions that can produce the sensation of having an anal lump.

Anal fissures

An anal fissure refers to a small tear in the lining of the anus, which can cause discomfort and pain. The symptoms of anal fissures often include:

  • a sharp pain during bowel movements
  • rectal bleeding or blood on toilet paper
  • an itching or burning sensation around the anus

Anal abscess

An anal abscess is an infected cavity filled with pus near the anus. It can cause several symptoms, including:

  • persistent pain or a throbbing sensation around the anus
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • fever and chills
  • a discharge of pus or blood from the anus

Rectal prolapse

Rectal prolapse occurs when the rectum slips out of its normal position and protrudes from the anus. The symptoms of rectal prolapse may include:

  • a reddish-colored protruding lump from the anus
  • mucus discharge or bleeding from the anus
  • diarrhea, constipation, or both
  • fecal incontinence

Perianal hematoma

A perianal hematoma refers to a painful, swollen lump that forms around the anus due to bleeding beneath the skin. Possible symptoms include:

  • the presence of a tender, bluish lump around the anus
  • severe pain or discomfort in the affected area
  • swelling or inflammation near the lump

These conditions can share symptoms with an anal cancer lump and hemorrhoids. Consider speaking with a medical professional to determine the exact cause of your symptoms and receive appropriate treatment.

Possible complications of anal cancer and hemorrhoids may include:

  • rectal bleeding
  • loss of bowel control (incontinence)
  • sepsis (a life threatening infection)
  • urinary retention
  • severe pain
  • ulceration (a break of the skin)
  • fistulas (the formation of an opening at the body’s surface)

Can you die from anal cancer?

Anal cancer can be a life threatening condition if left untreated.

The estimated number of deaths from anal cancer in the United States in 2023 was 1,870. The 5-year overall survival rate between 2013 and 2019 was 70.4%.

The earlier you receive treatment for cancer, the better your outlook. Survival rates improve when cancer is diagnosed earlier.

Consider speaking with a healthcare professional if you experience any of the following:

  • rectal bleeding that persists or worsens
  • severe anal pain that interferes with daily activities
  • changes in bowel habits that last for an extended period
  • unexplained weight loss
  • any other concerning symptoms in the anal area

A healthcare professional will assess your symptoms, perform a physical examination, and recommend any necessary tests to determine the underlying cause.

Hemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels in the anus or rectum, often causing itching, pain, and bleeding.

Anal cancer is a rare form of cancer that presents with persistent pain, anal itching, bleeding, changes in bowel habits, and the presence of an anal cancer lump.

Other medical conditions, including anal fissures and anal abscesses, can also cause similar symptoms.