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Rectal Cancer

Rectal Cancer Facts

  • Rectal cancer is the growth of abnormal cancerous cells in the lower part of the colon that connects the anus to the large bowel.
  • Rectal cancer develops usually over years; its actual cause is not known, but risk factors include increasing age (over 50), smoking, family history, high-fat diet, or a history of polyps or colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease.
  • The major symptom of rectal cancer is bleeding from the rectum; other symptoms include anemia, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness and/or a fast heartbeat, bowel obstruction, small diameter stools, and weight loss.
  • For diagnosis, exams and tests may include fecal occult blood testing, endoscopy, digital rectal examination, sigmoidoscopy, CT/MRI imaging studies, along with routine blood tests and detection of carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA).
  • Medical treatment depends on the stage of rectal cancer (stages I-IV), with IV being the most severe stage; multiple chemotherapy medications are available and are chosen by the specialist (oncologist) to fit the individual's stage of rectal cancer; other specialists may need to be consulted.
  • Surgery is used to both treat and reduce symptoms and, in some individuals, may result in a remission of the cancer.
  • Radiation therapy is also used to kill or shrink rectal cancers.
  • Follow-up is important to make sure that rectal cancer does not recur.
  • Prevention involves detection and removal of precancerous growths.
  • The outlook or prognosis for individuals with rectal cancer is usually related to the stage of cancer, with stages III and IV having the poorest outcomes.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/30/2016

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Rectal Cancer Sign

Rectal Bleeding

Rectal bleeding is a symptom of a problem in the GI tract. The definition is broad as it means any blood passed rectally; consequently, the blood may come from any area or structure in the GI tract that allows blood to leak into the GI lumen (area where food and fluid is processed for absorption or removal as waste). For example, a bleeding ulcer in the stomach can have the blood excreted in the person's fecal material Rectal bleeding may be due to problems on the rectum itself or from many other problems that occur elsewhere in the GI tract. Perirectal bleeding is bleeding in an area adjacent to the rectum and may be due to abscesses or fistulas.


Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Rectal Cancer »

Approximately 135,000 new cases of colorectal cancer occur in the United States each year, resulting in approximately 55,000 deaths per year.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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