Colorectal cancer is among the most common types of cancer in the world, causing over 935,000 deaths in 2020 alone. The disease affects people of all racial backgrounds and genders. Rectal tumors are located endoscopically or through digital examination. Due to their location, rectal tumors can be difficult to treat in terms of using a sphincter-sparing approach.

How do doctors screen for rectal cancer?

Screening is part of the normal healthcare routine for all patients over 50 years of age. Regular screening can help identify high-risk patients, slow the growth of tumors and lesions, increase the survival rate, and provide improved peace of mind.

What are the risk factors for rectal cancer?

The biggest risk factor for rectal cancer is aging. Other factors may include:

  • A family history of colorectal cancer 
  • A personal history of colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, or colorectal adenomas
  • A personal history of chronic ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease
  • FAP (familial adenomatous polyposis)
  • Lynch syndrome (HNPCC])
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Obesity

What are the symptoms of rectal cancer?

While the symptoms below may indicate rectal cancer, they are not definitive markers of a diagnosis. However, signs that point to the disease may include the following:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • A shift in bowel behavior
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Obstructed intestinal track
  • Poor appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Feeling physically weak
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How is rectal cancer evaluated?

Your initial consultation may feature a detailed medical history as well as a physical examination and digital probe. Other tests may include a colonoscopy, biopsy, carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) assay, reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction test, and immunohistochemistry.

Upon performing the physical exam, your doctor may discover a palpable mass along with bright red blood. Lab results may indicate anemia, changes in liver function, and electrolyte abnormalities.

What is the prognosis for rectal cancer?

Prognosis is related to a variety of factors, including:

  • The tumor’s location and proximity to other organs
  • The condition of the lymph nodes
  • The degree of metastasis
  • Whether the bowel is obstructed or perforated

Like other cancers, rectal cancer is staged according to the tumor size, location, and metastasis of the disease. 

What are the treatment options for rectal cancer?

Surgery – Surgery is the common solution for rectal cancer, depending on what stage the disease is at. Surgery can often be combined with other options such as radiation and chemotherapy to reduce the tumor’s size before the operation. A combination approach can help reduce recovery time as well. Note that if rectal cancer has metastasized, surgery may not be recommended.

Radiation – Radiation therapy can be utilized to shrink the size of a tumor before surgery or to help prevent cancer from recurring. Radiation is often used as an alternative to surgery when operating is not viable due to the tumor’s various attributes.

Chemotherapy – Chemo can be used along with radiation prior to surgery to help reduce tumor size. After surgery, it can help to kill off any lingering cancer cells.

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What happens after treatment?

After your procedure, your doctors will follow up to ensure the efficacy of the chosen treatment plan and detect any new malignancies or metastases. It’s essential that the patient undergo regular routine screenings to prevent a recurrence.

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