Telling The Difference Between Colon Cancer And IBS

June 24, 2022
Telling The Difference Between Colon Cancer And IBS

Experiencing bloating, diarrhoea or pain in the abdomen are some tell-tale signs that something is not quite right with one’s gastrointestinal health. However, how can you tell if it is something like mild IBS or something more threatening like colorectal cancer?

There are many similar symptoms between the two diagnoses, and most non-medically trained individuals cannot tell the difference between what’s causing them. Some of the typical overlapping gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Diarrhoea
  • Persistent Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Excess gas
  • Loss of appetite (sometimes along with weight loss)

With both IBS and colorectal cancer, these symptoms may persist over more than a few days, which sets them apart from minor acute problems like gastric flu (gastroenteritis) or food poisoning. But despite the common symptoms of IBS and colorectal cancer, some clues can help you pinpoint the likely cause with more clarity.

Differences between IBS and colorectal cancer

While IBS is chronic, it is usually not life-threatening and does not become significantly worse over time. IBS symptoms tend to come and go in waves and may be triggered by certain foods or external factors like stress. As such, most people with IBS can live an everyday life by taking steps to manage their IBS symptoms.

However, the symptoms that appear with colorectal or colon cancer tend to persist continuously for a longer time and become progressively worse as the cancer cells spread in the body. Some symptoms that are more specific to colon cancer also include:

  • Narrowing of stools (pencil-shaped stools)
  • Feeling the urge to pass motion even after clearing the bowels
  • Blood in the stools
  • Nausea and vomiting

If you notice these symptoms in addition to bloating, abdominal pain, and changes to bowel frequency and consistency, there is a high chance that you are dealing with something more severe than IBS.

Can IBS turn into colorectal cancer?

Don’t be mistaken: an IBS diagnosis today does not mean that you will be safe from colorectal cancer indefinitely. In fact, individuals who experience IBS have to be extra vigilant with their GI health, as they are at a higher risk of contracting colon cancer.

It may be even more challenging to spot the signs of colorectal cancer when one is already suffering from IBS symptoms. Thus, regular check-ups and being observant of any changes to one’s GI health are crucial.

Guarding against colorectal cancer

As the symptoms of colorectal cancer don’t usually surface until the later stages, regular screenings are a good idea to detect any cancerous developments early. Doctors generally recommend that individuals above the age of 50 undergo routine screening for colorectal cancer. Those at higher risk can also consider starting screenings earlier or getting screened more often. Some conditions that put you in the high-risk group include pre-existing colon polyps, a family history of colon cancer, type-2 diabetes, hepatitis B, and ulcerative colitis.


In Singapore, colorectal cancer is one of the three leading cancers, so it is more common than you think. If you or any of your loved ones are facing IBS or colorectal cancer symptoms, we strongly suggest making an appointment with an abdominal pain specialist clinic in Singapore today. Your doctor can conduct the necessary tests and scans to understand your gut health better. If cancer is present, they can also recommend and carry out the most suitable colon cancer treatment in Singapore for you.