Rectal cancer symptoms, risk factors & treatment
September 23, 2021
Cancer inside the rectum (rectal cancer) and cancer inside the colon (colon cancer) are often referred to together as "colorectal cancer,” which we have discussed before. While rectal and colon cancers are similar in many ways, the treatment involved for both is different
When we refer to the rectum, we are talking about the last several inches of the large intestine, starting at the end of the final segment of your colon and ending at the short, narrow passage leading to the anus. The rectum sits in a tight space, barely separated from other organs and structures in the pelvic cavity. This makes complete surgical removal of rectal cancer challenging and complex.
Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatment for Colorectal Cancer
Some of the most common symptoms of rectal cancer include:
- Change in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, more-frequent bowel movements)
- Dark or red blood in stool
- Mucus in stool
- Narrow stool
- Abdominal pain
- Painful bowel movements
- Iron deficiency anemia
- A feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely
- Unexplained weight loss
- Weakness or fatigue
We urge you to see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms, particularly blood in your stool or unexplained weight loss.
There are lifestyle factors that can increase your risk of rectal cancer, many of which are similar to those that increase the risk of colon cancer. These include:
- Old age -- The majority of people diagnosed with colon and rectal cancer are above the age of 50.
- Personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps -- If you've already had rectal cancer, colon cancer or adenomatous polyps, you have a greater risk of colorectal cancer in the future.
- Inflammatory bowel disease -- Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon and rectum, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
- Inherited syndromes -- Genetic syndromes, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), passed through generations of your family can increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
- Family history -- You're more likely to develop colorectal cancer if you have a parent, sibling, or child with the disease.
- Dietary factors -- Colorectal cancer may be associated with a diet low in vegetables and high in red meat.
- Sedentary lifestyle -- If you're inactive, you're more likely to develop colorectal cancer.
- Diabetes -- People with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance may have an increased risk.
- Obesity -- Those who are obese have an increased risk of colorectal cancer and an increased risk of dying of colon or rectal cancer when compared with people considered normal weight.
- Smoking -- People who smoke may have an increased risk of colon cancer.
- Alcohol -- Regularly drinking more than three alcoholic beverages a week may increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
- Radiation therapy for previous cancer -- Radiation therapy directed at the abdomen to treat previous cancers may increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
Prevention & Treatment
The most accurate screening test for rectal cancer is a colonoscopy, just like it is for colon cancer. Typically, you should have your first colonoscopy at age 50, but if you have other risk factors, we may want you to do this earlier and more frequently.
For those who are found to have rectal cancer, surgical intervention is almost always required. Sometimes this is preceded by radiation therapy and/or followed by chemotherapy.
In the past, long-term survival was fairly uncommon for people with rectal cancer, even after extensive treatment. But today, thanks to advances in treatment, we are now able to cure rectal cancer in many cases. Additional treatment is often needed before and/or after surgery to reduce the chance that the cancer will return.
Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute is centered around treating diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus.
Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute (also known as the “Butt Hutt” around town!) has been in practice since 1990 as a free standing, private practice located in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. We are known for our efficiency and patient care, in a more relaxed office-based setting. Our doctors are known regionally for their expertise and are active in teaching surgical residents and other physicians. We are also a major sponsor of The Rumpshaker 5K, a race that promotes awareness about colorectal cancer. Check out our website for more information, or give us a call to make an appointment at (205) 458-5000, or email us at [email protected].