Rectal cancer

By Medically reviewed by hellodoktor


What is rectal cancer?

Rectal cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells in the rectum, the last section of your large intestine. Rectal cancer is usually grouped together with colon cancer, and together they are called colorectal cancer. Rectal cancer most frequently begins in the cells that line the inside of the rectum. Rectal cancer often first forms as precancerous polyps.

How common is rectal cancer?

This type of cancer is more common in men than women. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of rectal cancer?

The common symptoms of this condition are:

  • Constipation
  • Bleeding from the anus
  • Loose stool or diarrhea
  • Dark patches in the stool
  • Pencil-shaped stool
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Pelvic pain

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes rectal cancer?

Two main causes of rectal cancer include:

Inflammatory bowel disease

People with inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease) are at increased risk of rectal cancer. The risk increases the longer a person has the disease, and the worse the severity of inflammation. In these high risk groups, both prevention with aspirin and regular colonoscopies are recommended.


Those with a family history in two or more first-degree relatives (such as a parent or sibling) have a two to threefold greater risk of disease and this group accounts for about 20% of all cases. A number of genetic syndromes are also associated with higher rates of colorectal cancer.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for rectal cancer?

There are many risk factors for this condition, such as:

  • Older age
  • Male gender
  • High intake of fat, alcohol, red meat, processed meats
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Lack of physical exercise

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is rectal cancer diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects that you may experience this condition, a physical examination will be performed and some tests will be also recommended by your doctor. Your physician will give you a lower GI (lower gastrointestinal series) with a barium enema. This is an X-ray of your colon and rectum given after an enema containing a barium dye has been administered.

Your doctor might also suggest you have a colonoscopy, which is used to confirm the presence of rectal cancer and to locate any polyps or tumors in the colon or rectum.

When a lower GI is done, any abnormalities found will appear as dark shadows on the X-ray, so a colonoscopy is often used to confirm what abnormalities are present. A colonoscopy is also used to remove polyps.

If your doctor can detect the cancer, it will be classified into 5 stages:

  • Stage 0

Stage 0 is the earliest stage of a cancer diagnosis. Abnormal cells are found in the inner walls of the colon. These cells could become cancerous and spread beyond this point.

  • Stage I

Stage I, also called Dukes A rectal cancer, is a cancer that’s spread beyond the inner walls of the colon and into the muscle layers in the colon.

  • Stage II

At this stage of cancer, the tumor extends past the muscular wall of the colon and into the outer layer of the wall, which is called the serosa.

  • Stage III

In stage III, the cancer has spread beyond the serosa and into the lymph nodes, which are small nodules that store and produce cells that fight infection in the body.

  • Stage IV

This is the most advanced stage of rectal cancer. At this stage, the cancer has spread into various organs in the body, such as the lungs or brain.

How is rectal cancer treated?

After detecting the rectal cancer, the next step is to determine the best course of treatment options for your rectal cancer. You have several options to consider. Your doctor will advise you on the best approach to take. Treatments may include the following, alone, or in combination:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Biological therapy

As with many cancers, a team approach to treating rectal cancer is often used. In addition to receiving care by nurses, social workers and counselors, and dieticians, you may also be treated by one or more of the following doctor specialists.

  • Surgeon
  • Gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in treating diseases of the digestive system
  • Medical oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating cancer with medicine, namely chemotherapy.
  • Radiation oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating cancer using radiation.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage rectal cancer?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with this condition:

  • Increasing the consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and reducing the intake of red meat and processed meats
  • Higher physical activity is also recommended. Physical exercise is associated with a modest reduction in colon but not rectal cancer risk. High levels of physical activity reduce the risk of rectal cancer by about 21%.
  • Sitting regularly for prolonged periods is associated with higher mortality from rectal cancer. The risk is not negated by regular exercise, though it is lowered.
  • The evidence for any protective effect conferred by fiber and fruits and vegetables is, however, poor.
  • The risk of rectal cancer can be reduced by maintaining a normal body weight

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: August 28, 2017 | Last Modified: September 13, 2019

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