What is rectal cancer?

Rectal cancer starts in the rectum, the last portion of the colon, or large intestine. The rectum is located in the pelvis, and is where stool is stored until it is emptied through the anus. About 40,000 people are diagnosed with rectal cancer each year in the United States (Source: ACS).

With early diagnosis, which is possible through screening tests, rectal cancer has an excellent prognosis and can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Screening tests to detect rectal cancer include a digital rectal exam, fecal occult blood test to look for microscopic amounts of blood in the stool, and colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy to look directly at the lining of the rectum and colon. Symptoms of rectal cancer can involve a change in bowel movements, blood in the stool, lower abdominal pain, and weight loss.

While it is not known what causes rectal cancer, it is more common among people who are over 50 and have a family or personal history of colorectal cancer, have polyps or inflammatory conditions of the intestines, have a diet low in fiber and high in fat, or who smoke. Not everyone who has risk factors develops rectal cancer, and sometimes it occurs in people who do not have risk factors.

Rectal cancer is a serious disease. Although it rarely creates conditions that need to be evaluated in an emergency setting, tell your doctor right away if you suspect you may have rectal cancer. Seek prompt medical care if you notice changes in your bowel movements, bloody stool, persistent lower abdominal pain, or unexpected weight loss. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for significant rectal bleeding.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of rectal cancer?

Rectal cancer may not have any symptoms initially, but as it continues to grow, the rectum may narrow and changes in bowel movements may occur. If the tumor starts to bleed, blood may be seen in the stool. Pain may develop in the lower abdomen and pelvis and other nonspecific symptoms such as weight loss may occur.... Read more about rectal cancersymptoms

CAUSES

What causes rectal cancer?

Cancer occurs when abnormal cells reproduce in an uncontrolled fashion. It is not known what causes this to occur, although risk factors have been identified for several cancers including rectal cancer.... Read more about rectal cancercauses

TREATMENTS

How is rectal cancer treated?

Treatment of rectal cancer begins with seeking regular medical care throughout your life. Regular medical care allows a health care professional to provide early screening tests. Regular medical care also provides an opportunity for your health care professional to promptly evaluate symptoms and your risks for developing rectal cancer.... Read more about rectal cancertreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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