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Rectal Cancer (cont.)

What Are 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.
  • Change in bowel habits (more gas or excessive amounts of gas, smaller stools, diarrhea)
  • 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, discomfort, 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 or narrow stools 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.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/30/2016

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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.

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