Rectal Cancer

The last six inches of the digestive tract is the rectum and anus. You are more likely to develop rectal cancer if you have a history of polyps (abnormal tissue growths) in your colon or a family history of colorectal cancer. Other risk factors include age over 40, previous colorectal cancer, or cancer of the ovaries, breast, or lining of the uterus (endometrium).

Symptoms of rectal cancer can include:
  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Stomachache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
The symptoms of rectal cancer do not necessarily correspond to the extent of disease.Even patients with a small amount of bleeding may have a significant cancer. A physical examination may reveal a palpable mass and blood in the rectum. Laboratory examination may reveal iron-deficiency anemia and electrolyte and liver function abnormalities.

Accurate staging provides crucial information about the location and size of the primary tumor in the rectum, and, if present, the size, number, and location of any metastases. Accurate initial staging with X-rays and ultrasound can guide therapy by helping to determine the type of surgical intervention and the choice of neoadjuvant therapy to maximize the likelihood of a cure.

Most rectal cancers can be treated without the need for a permanent colostomy.