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.
Your chances are higher for:
People of the Black race have the highest chance of getting and dying from colon and rectal cancers.
You may not notice any symptoms at first. When present, rectal cancer may cause:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. Your answers and a physical exam may point to rectal cancer. You may also have:
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.
A colostomy 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.
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:
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:
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:
To help lower your chances of colon cancer:
American Cancer Society
United Ostomy Associations of America
Canadian Cancer Society
Ostomy Canada Society
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:
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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.
Last reviewed September 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 1/29/2021