Welcome to the Patient Education Library of Texas Medical Institute
CausesThe exact cause of rectal cancer is unknown. Cancer occurs when cells in the interior lining of the rectum grow abnormally and out of control, instead of dividing in an orderly manner. Increasing age and a family history of rectal, colon, or certain other cancers appear to increase the risk of rectal cancer.
Rectal cancer is treated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of treatment types. The type of treatment that you receive may depend on several factors, including the stage of your cancer and your general health. Surgery is the most common treatment for rectal cancer.
A local excision may be used to remove rectal cancer that is found very early. For instance, a polyp may be removed from the rectum without cutting into the abdomen. A local resection is a procedure that is used to remove the cancer and the tissue around it. A local resection usually leaves the anus sphincter intact, and following surgery you will be able to have bowel movements. A resection and colostomy may be necessary if the rectum cannot be sewn back together again. A stoma, opening at the side of the body, is created for waste products to move through, which are collected in a colostomy bag. With a colostomy, you will not be able to have bowel movements as you did before.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. External radiation or internal radiation therapy may be used to treat rectal cancer. External radiation delivers radiation from an external source, a machine. Internal radiation therapy, brachytherapy, involves implanting radioactive seed pellets in or near the cancer. The seeds deliver a slow dose of radiation. Internal radiation methods may also use radioactive wires, needles, or catheters. The type of radiation that you receive depends on the type of cancer that you have.
Chemotherapy uses cancer fighting drugs or combinations of drugs to kill cancer cells. You may receive chemotherapy in the form of pills or they may be injected through a needle. Chemotherapy may be used in combination with radiation therapy or after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
Even with treatment, some cases of rectal cancer may return. This is termed “recurrent rectal cancer.” Your doctor can explain your risk for rectal cancer and possible treatments if it does recur.
The experience of rectal cancer and cancer treatments can be an emotional process for people with cancer and their loved ones. It is important that you receive support from a positive source. Some people find comfort in their family, friends, counselors, co-workers, and faith. Cancer support groups are another good option. They can be a source of information and support from people who understand what you are experiencing. Ask your doctor for cancer support group locations in your area.
Am I at Risk
Risk factors may increase your likelihood of developing rectal cancer, although some people that develop rectal cancer do not have any risk factors. People with all of the risk factors may never develop the disease; however, the chance of developing rectal cancer increases with the more risk factors you have. You should tell your doctor about your risk factors and discuss your concerns.
Risk factors for rectal cancer:
_____ People that are 50 years old and older have a higher risk for rectal cancer.
_____ People with a family history of colon or rectal cancer have a higher risk of rectal cancer.
_____ People that have experienced colon, rectal, ovary, endometrium, or breast cancer have a higher risk of rectal cancer.
_____ People with inflammatory bowel disease have an increased risk of developing rectal cancer.
_____ Select hereditary conditions increase the risk for rectal cancer. Conditions include familial adenomatous polyposis and nonpolyposis colon cancer.
ComplicationsRectal cancer may spread to other parts of the body, including the lungs, liver, and ovaries. Rectal cancer may recur after it has been treated.
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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.
The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.