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Rectal Cancer (cont.)

What Other Forms of Therapy Treat Rectal Cancer?

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays that are aimed at the cancer cells to kill or shrink them. For rectal cancer, radiation therapy may be used either before surgery (neoadjuvant therapy) or after surgery (adjuvant therapy), usually in conjunction with chemotherapy.

The goals of radiation therapy are as follows:

  • Shrink the tumor to make its surgical removal easier (if given before surgery).
  • Kill the remaining cancer cells after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer returning or spreading.
  • Treat any local recurrences that are causing symptoms, such as abdominal pain or bowel obstruction.

Typically, radiation treatments are given daily, five days a week, for up to six weeks. Each treatment lasts only a few minutes and is completely painless; it is similar to having an X-ray film taken.

The main side effects of radiation therapy for rectal cancer include mild skin irritation, diarrhea, rectal or bladder irritation, and fatigue. These side effects usually resolve soon after the treatment is complete.

Chemotherapy and radiation are often given for stages II and III rectal cancer. Preoperative chemotherapy and radiation are sometimes performed to decrease the size of the tumor.

Rectal Cancer Follow-up

Because a risk exists of rectal cancer coming back after treatment, routine follow-up care is necessary. Follow-up care usually consists of regular visits to the doctor's office for physical exams, blood studies, and imaging studies. In addition, a colonoscopy is recommended one year after a diagnosis of rectal cancer. If the findings from the colonoscopy are normal, then the procedure can be repeated every three years.

Is It Possible to Prevent Rectal Cancer?

Appropriate colorectal screening leading to the detection and removal of precancerous growths is the only way to prevent this disease. Screening tests for rectal cancer include fecal occult blood test and endoscopy. If a family history of colorectal cancer is present in a first-degree relative (a parent or a sibling), then endoscopy of the colon and rectum should begin 10 years before the age of the relative's diagnosis or at age 50 years, whichever comes first.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/30/2016

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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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