Rectal Itching as a Sign of Cancer?

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According to the American Cancer Society, 44,180 Americans will get diagnosed with rectal cancer in 2019. This newest projection illustrates this as less than half of the entire number of colon cancer cases, but this does not decrease the importance of rectal cancer awareness.

Although persistent rectal itching can be a sign of rectal cancer, it is not the most common cause. There are many benign or non-life threatening reasons that you might suffer from this condition. Even though it is not pleasant to discuss, it is imperative that you discuss this symptom with your primary doctor to find — and get treatment — for the cause.

Doctor reviewing medical chart with senior man
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Anal fissures, or tiny tears in the anal tissue, can lead to unpleasant itching and even small amounts of blood on the toilet paper. They are typically not life-threatening. These small tears usually occur following trauma to the anus, such as chronically having hard and difficult to pass bowel movements. 


Including sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea, infections can cause unpleasant rectal sensations. Genital warts and yeast overgrowth are two more potential examples of this. A visual examination by your doctor can provide a diagnosis and treatment for these conditions.

Gastrointestinal infections can cause diarrhea, which can lead to excessive wiping with tissues and irritation to the anus.

Likewise, if you are incontinent of stool, attempt to keep the perianal area clean and dry to avoid itching and secondary problems, such as yeast infections or bacterial skin infections.

Contact Dermatitis

Irritation of the sensitive anal tissues can lead to rashes, itching, and discomfort. The cause can be as simple as using a new soap, lotion, or even laundry detergent. Similarly, if you eat spicy or rich foods, your bowel movement can irritate the rectum. Dermatitis usually resolves on its own once the offending stimuli are removed. 

Rectal Cancer

Rectal cancer is the least likely cause of anal itching, but only a doctor can determine your risk. The symptoms of rectal cancer are somewhat different than those of colon cancer and can include:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • A lump or palpable lesion on the anus or in the rectum
  • A feeling of fullness, even following rectal emptying with a bowel movement
  • Change in your bowel movements, to include narrow or ribbon-like stools
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your groin
  • Rectal itching

Diagnosing Cancer

The most basic initial test, aside from direct visualization of your anus, to detect anal cancer is a digital rectal examination. Using a gloved and lubricated finger, your doctor will feel the areas around and inside your anus for abnormalities.

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist, such as a gastroenterologist or a colorectal surgeon for ongoing testing. 

There are a few different types of endoscopy tests used to detect rectal cancer including:

Both of these procedures require a bowel preparation to clear the bowels prior to the test. During either procedure, your doctor is capable of removing small polyps and potentially taking samples for a biopsy if required. Your doctor may also order imaging tests such as x-rays, MRI, CT scans, or even ultrasound in conjunction with the endoscopy.

Take the First Step 

Don't delay in discussing ongoing rectal itching with your primary doctor. As a medical professional, your doctor will not be embarrassed or shocked by your symptom but will want to help you find the cause and relief. Reporting your symptom is the first step in getting the medical care you need.

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  1. American Cancer Society. (n.d.). How Many People Get Colorectal Cancer?

  2. American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. (n.d.). Anal fissures

  3. Ansari P. Pruritus AniClin Colon Rectal Surg. 2016;29(1):38–42. doi:10.1055/s-0035-1570391

  4. American Cancer Society. (n.d.). How is Anal Cancer Diagnosed?