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.
The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history and do a physical exam.
Screenings for cancer or precancerous polyps include:
- Digital rectal exam—the doctor's gloved finger will examine the rectum for lumps or growths
- Fecal occult blood test
—a test to check for hidden blood in the stool
—examination of the rectum and colon using a lighted tube called a colonoscope
—examination of the lower colon using a lighted tube called a sigmoidoscope
- Barium enema
—rectal injection of barium coats the lining of the colon and rectum; done before x-rays to create better images of the lower intestine
- CT colonography
—radiology test that looks at your large intestines
Additional tests may confirm the presence of cancer, determine what stage the cancer is in, and/or determine if the cancer has spread:
—removal of tissue to test for cancer
—removal of a polyp during a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy
- Blood tests to look for anemia and cancer markers in the blood
- CT scan
—x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the body; identifies the spread of the tumor
- Positron emission tomography (PET)
—produces images showing the amount of functional activity in tissue; shows if the disease has spread outside the pelvis
- Transrectal ultrasound—an ultrasound probe inserted into the rectum sends out sound waves to image the tumor
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:
—This is for the removal of early stage cancer.
- Open surgery—This is used to remove larger, later stage tumors, nearby healthy tissue, and potentially nearby lymph nodes. The doctor will look for additional cancer in the colon.
Sometimes, nearby healthy rectal or colon tissue will be removed. This is called
. 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
. It allows body waste to pass out of the body if the colon cannot do so.
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
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.