Rectal cancer is cancer that starts in the rectum. The rectum is the part of the colon. It stores solid waste. It stays there until it’s eliminated from the body.
Cancer is when cells in the body split without control or order. These cells go on to form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to harmful growths. These growths attack nearby tissues. They also spread to other parts of the body. It’s not clear exactly what causes these problems. It’s likely a mix of genes and the environment.
—Tissue samples are tested in a lab (done during endoscopy)
The exam and your test results will help find out the stage of cancer you have. Staging guides your treatment. Rectal cancer is staged from 0-4. Stage 0 is a very localized cancer. Stage 4 is a spread to other parts of the body
Rectal cancer is treated with more than one method. Sometimes they’re combined. This can be done with:
Surgery is the main way to treat rectal cancer. There are many ways this can be done. It depends on where the cancer is and how much it has spread.
and local excision—Cancer is removed during endoscopy.
Local transanal resection—A border of healthy tissue along with the cancer is removed.
Transanal endoscopic microsurgery (TEM)—A border of healthy tissue along with the cancer is removed. The hole in the wall is sewn back together.
Low anterior resection—A border of healthy tissue along with the cancer is removed.
Proctectomy—The rectum is removed. The end of the colon and the anal canal are attached. Bowel use will stay.
Abdominoperineal resection—The rectum, anal canal, and surrounding tissue are removed.
Pelvic exenteration—Removal of rectum, anal canal, and nearby organs with cancer. This may include the prostate, uterus, or bladder.
is a path for solid waste to pass from the body is made through the belly wall. A special bag is needed to collect the waste. This may be needed for some procedures on the rectum.
If the bladder is removed, you will need a
urostomy. This is a path for urine to pass out of the body through the belly wall. Some, but not all types, need a bag to collect the waste.
Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It’s aimed at the tumor from a source outside the body. It may also be given at the same time as chemotherapy.
is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may given by mouth, shots, or IV. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.
These medicines block tumors from growing and spreading. It may be used with other methods. In many cases, these medicines aren’t used until cancer is in later stages.
Some medicines are part of treatment. Others may help control side effects. These may include:
Medicines to make more red or white blood cells
The purpose of these tests is find and treat cancer early. If you are aged 50 years and older, and are not at high risk, talk to your doctor to find the right test for you:
Colonoscopy—every 10 years
Sigmoidoscopy—every 5-10 years
CT colonography—every 5 years
Barium enema—every 5 years
Stool DNA test every 3 years
Fecal occult blood test (FOBT)—every year
Fecal immunochemical test (FIT)—every year
Talk to your doctor about testing after age 40 if you are Black, Asian, or a native of Alaska.
Talk to your doctor about how often you should be tested if you have:
People in your family with colon or rectal cancer, or polyps
People in your family with inherited diseases of the colon or rectum
Or had colon or rectal cancer, polyps
Inflammatory bowel diseases
To help lower your chances of colon cancer:
Quit smoking—your doctor will help you find the best way.
Colorectal cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer.html. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Colorectal cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113642/Colorectal-cancer. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Colorectal cancer screening. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114074/Colorectal-cancer-screening. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Colorectal cancer screening tests. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/screening-tests-used.html. Accessed January 29, 2021.
General information about rectal cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/colorectal/patient/rectal-treatment-pdq. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Moreno C, Kim DH, Bartel TB, et al. Colorectal cancer screening. American College of Radiology (ACR) Appropriateness Criteria. Available at: https://acsearch.acr.org/docs/69469/Narrative. Updated 2018.
Rex DK, Johnson DA, Anderson JC, et al. American College of Gastroenterology guidelines for colorectal cancer screening 2009. Am J Gastroenterol. 2009;104(3):739-750.
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.