Rectal cancer is cancer in the rectum, the last part of the large intestine. It allows waste to pass to the anus and out of the body.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. If cells keep dividing, a mass of tissue (a growth or tumor) forms. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors. They can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.
Research shows that certain risk factors are associated with the disease, including:
Rectal cancer often does not have any symptoms. Some symptoms associated with it include:
These may also be caused by less serious health conditions. See a doctor if you have these symptoms.
The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history and do a physical exam.
Screenings for cancer or precancerous polyps include:
Additional tests may confirm the presence of cancer, determine what stage the cancer is in, and/or determine if the cancer has spread:
Treatment will depend on the stage of the cancer, the spread into the wall of the rectum, and your overall health. Options include:
Surgery is the main treatment. The tumor and nearby rectal tissue are removed. It may also involve nearby lymph nodes. The surgery may be done by:
Sometimes, nearby healthy rectal or colon tissue will be removed. This is called colectomy . Healthy tissue is removed in case the cancer has spread. Often, the remaining healthy portions of the colon and rectum are reconnected. Sometimes, the end of the healthy colon is temporarily or permanently attached to an opening in the abdomen called a colostomy . It allows body waste to pass out of the body if the colon cannot do so.
Radiation is used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It is directed at the site of the tumor from a source outside the body. This therapy is aimed at the immediate area of the cancer. It is used alone or with chemotherapy .
This therapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms, including pill, injection, and via a catheter. Drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing cancer cells. They can also kill healthy cells. This therapy is systemic, meaning it affects your entire body.
Combined chemotherapy and radiation therapy has been the preferred treatment.
If you are diagnosed, follow your doctor's instructions.
The cause of most rectal cancer is not known. Many colon and rectal cancers can be prevented by finding and removing polyps that could become cancer. Beginning at age 50, both men and women at average risk for colon and rectal cancer should follow one of these five screening options:
People with any of the following risk factors should begin colon and rectal cancer screening earlier (at age 40) and/or undergo screening more often:
There are also lifestyle changes that may reduce your risk of rectal cancer, such as:
Canadian Cancer Society
Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada
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Last reviewed February 2012 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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