Rectal Cancer (cont.)
Rectal Cancer Symptoms and Signs
Rectal cancer can cause many symptoms and signs that require a person to seek medical care. However, rectal cancer may also be present without any symptoms, underscoring the importance of routine health screening. Symptoms and signs to be aware of include the following:
- Bleeding (the most common symptom; present in about 80% of individuals with rectal cancer)
- Seeing blood mixed with stool is a sign to seek immediate medical care. Although many people bleed due to hemorrhoids, a doctor should still be notified in the event of rectal bleeding.
- Prolonged rectal bleeding (perhaps in small quantities that is not seen in the stool) may lead to anemia, causing fatigue, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, or a fast heartbeat.
- Bowel obstruction
- A rectal mass may grow so large that it prevents the normal passage of stool. This blockage may lead to the feeling of severe constipation or pain when having a bowel movement. In addition, abdominal pain or cramping may occur due to the blockage.
- The stool size may appear narrow so that it can be passed around the rectal mass. Therefore, pencil-thin stool may be another sign of an obstruction from rectal cancer.
- A person with rectal cancer may have a sensation that the stool cannot be completely evacuated after a bowel movement.
- Weight loss: Cancer may cause weight loss. Unexplained weight loss (in the absence of dieting or a new exercise program) requires a medical evaluation.
Note that sometimes hemorrhoids (swollen veins in the anal area) can mimic the pain, discomfort, and bleeding seen with anal-rectal cancers. Individuals who have the above symptoms should get a medical exam of their anal-rectal area to be sure they have an accurate diagnosis.
Questions to Ask the Doctor About Rectal Cancer
If a person has been diagnosed with rectal cancer, the doctor should be asked the following questions:
- Where is my cancer located?
- How far has the cancer spread? (What is the stage of the cancer?)
- What treatment options do I have?
- What is the overall goal of treatment in my case?
- What are the risks and side effects of the proposed treatment?
- Am I eligible for a clinical trial?
- How do I find out if I am eligible for a clinical trial?
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/22/2015
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