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What is the Connection Between Diverticulitis and Cancer?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Diverticulitis and cancer of the colon have several similarities. The main symptom of diverticulitis is the presence of fluid-filled lumps in the intestines, generally the colon, which eventually become inflamed and sometimes painful. These lumps may feel or appear similar to those caused by cancer, although the two conditions are caused by different factors. Both may cause similar symptoms, such as abdominal pain or digestive bleeding in the stools, and both are often treated with surgery. Additionally, diverticulitis and colon cancer may both be prevented by eating a high fiber diet.

It does not appear that diverticulitis and cancer are heavily linked, as the former is a very common condition that is generally easily treated. Most times it occurs when small pouches called diverticula become infected or swollen. This can lead to symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, and sometimes blood in the rectum. Patients are often treated using antibiotics and dietary changes, although severe cases may require surgery. There does not appear to an increased risk of colon cancer among patients who have experienced diverticulitis.

Colon cancer, while one of the most common forms of malignancy in the people over 50, is not nearly as common as diverticulitis. Both tend to occur past the age of 40, but colon cancer is a more serious and potentially fatal condition. It forms when rapidly growing mutated cells cluster together into a tumor. These tumors may appear similar to swollen diverticula, but they are not filled with fluid. Diverticulitis does not spread as cancer does and is usually not life-threatening, even when left untreated.

Abdominal pain is a common symptom of both diverticulitis and colorectal cancer. With diverticulitis, this pain usually occurs quickly and progresses in intensity rapidly, while cancer often develops more slowly. Symptoms of colorectal cancer may not become apparent until the disease is progressed.

Diverticulitis and cancer may both be treated with surgery, and in both cases involves removing the swollen lump or tumor from the colon. This may require weeks of recovery, and in cancer treatment, follow-up therapies may also be needed. Those who have suffered from diverticulitis once may be more likely to develop it again, although this may depend on eating habits and lifestyle choices both before and after treatment.

Patients can help prevent diverticulitis and cancer from eating a diet rich in fiber, drinking enough water, and exercising regularly. These activities not only prevent these conditions, but a host of other ailments of the colon and digestive tract. If any unusual symptoms occur, such as sudden pain or prolonged digestive upset, they should be reported to a doctor immediately for evaluation.

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Discussion Comments
By Telsyst — On Feb 02, 2014

Either of these subjects should be discussed with your doctor. A change of diet may help some of the symptoms you are having, but you should still talk with a professional to rule out any serious, long-lasting problems.

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