Rectal Cancer

(Cancer of the Rectum)

Definition

Rectal cancer is cancer in the rectum, the last part of the large intestine. The rectum allows waste to pass through the anal canal and out of the body.

Causes

Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually, these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but is probably a combination of genetics and the environment.

Risk Factors

Being over 50 years of age increases your chance of rectal cancer. Other factors that may increase your chance of rectal cancer include:
  • Genetics
  • History of colon or rectal cancer, or polyps
  • Family history of colon or rectal cancer, especially a parent, sibling, or child
  • Radiation therapy for prostate cancer
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Diet high in fat and low in fiber
  • Heavy alcohol intake
  • Physical inactivity

Symptoms

In most cases, there are no symptoms with rectal cancer. When symptoms do appear, they may include:
  • A change in bowel habits
  • Blood, either bright red, or black and tarry, in the stool
  • Stools that are narrower than usual
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • General abdominal discomfort, such as frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, and/or cramps
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Constant feeling of fatigue or tiredness

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your rectum will be checked for lumps or abnormal areas. Your bodily fluids, waste product, and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
  • Blood tests
  • Fecal occult blood test
  • Biopsy
Your bodily structures may need to be viewed using an instrument. This can be done with: Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

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