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IBS or Colon Cancer? How to Tell the Difference Based on Symptoms

IBS or Colon Cancer: How to tell the difference based on symptoms

When abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits occur, it’s hard to tell if it's IBS or something more serious like colon cancer.

Without knowing what to look for, you might overlook crucial warning signs or panic over benign symptoms.

This article demystifies the symptoms, offering you a straightforward comparison to ensure you understand when and how to take action.

Understanding IBS and Colon Cancer

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and colon cancer can exhibit similar symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits.

However, understanding the nuances can help differentiate one from the other.

What is IBS?

IBS is a common disorder affecting the large intestine, causing symptoms like cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation.

IBS is a chronic condition that needs to be managed long term but doesn't lead to more serious diseases or damage the bowel.

What is Colon Cancer?

Colon cancer begins in the colon or rectum and might start from small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called polyps that form on the inside of the colon.

Over time some of these polyps can become colon cancers. Colon cancer is highly treatable if diagnosed early.

Key Symptom Differences

Frequency and Timing of Symptoms

IBS Symptoms:

  • Occur in episodes, often during times of stress or after eating certain foods.

  • Symptoms can improve with bowel movements.

Colon Cancer Symptoms:

  • Persistent and progressively worsen over time.

  • Symptoms do not improve with bowel movements and may include constant pain.

Nature of Bowel Changes

IBS Symptoms:

  • Diarrhea or constipation, the pattern can switch over time but is usually consistent with one type.

  • Mucus can be present in the stool.

Colon Cancer Symptoms:

  • Changes in stool caliber, notably a persistent narrowing of the stool.

  • Blood in the stool, which might be visible or develop as a darker stool.

Weight Loss and General Health

IBS Symptoms:

  • IBS typically does not cause weight loss unless it’s related to a decrease in appetite due to abdominal discomfort.

Colon Cancer Symptoms:

  • Unexplained weight loss and general fatigue are common, reflecting more systemic effects of the illness.

When to Seek Medical Help

Understanding when to consult a healthcare professional is crucial.

If you experience a persistent change in your bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, or blood in your stool, these are red flags that should prompt immediate medical evaluation.

Additionally, if your symptoms persist despite standard IBS treatments, further diagnostic testing for colon cancer or other conditions may be necessary.

Preventative Measures and Early Detection

Regular screenings, such as colonoscopies, are recommended for those over the age of 45 or earlier if there is a family history of colon cancer.

For IBS, lifestyle modifications including diet changes, increased physical activity, and stress management can significantly improve symptoms.


While IBS and colon cancer share some symptoms, significant differences exist in their presentation and implications.

By paying close attention to the type, frequency, and associated symptoms, you can better navigate your health concerns.



The contents of this article were researched and written by the writers at Web Wide LLC. Web Wide LLC is not a medical facility nor do they claim to be. The content of this article should not be taken as medical advice. Neither Web Wide nor Berry Johnson Health shall be held liable for any damages or harm done to anyone based on actions taken after reading this article. This article is for entertainment purposes only. Neither Web Wide LLC nor Berry Johnson Health has to update this article, even if someone points out an error. Sources are provided for any statistics or findings made in this article. Please seek professional medical advice before taking any action regarding your health, or schedule an official consultation with the professional Doctors at Berry Johnson Health.


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