Rectal cancer – defined as the growth of cancerous cells in the lower part of the colon – affects more than 40,000 people in the United States each year. Fortunately, the chances of successful treatment are high if it is detected early. Though the exact cause of rectal cancer is not known, there are many risk factors that can increase your chance of developing this condition. They include:
- Being over the age of 50
- A family history of rectal cancer
- A high-fat diet
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Heavy alcohol consumption
There are several symptoms to look out for that could be a sign of rectal cancer, including abdominal pain, weight loss, fatigue, rectal pain, frequent gas or stomach cramps, and change in appetite. Changes in bowel habits may also be a sign of the condition, so watch for bloody stool, unusual diarrhea or constipation, or a variation in the consistency, shape, or frequency of bowel movements.
If you are experiencing symptoms that may signify rectal cancer, your physician will do a comprehensive exam as well as trace your personal and family medical histories. Your physician will also likely conduct tests, such as a digital rectal exam to feel for polyps or a colonoscopy to remove any suspicious tissues or polyps so they can be biopsied. Finally, imaging tests, such as a CT scan or an MRI, may also be suggested.
If you’ve been diagnosed with rectal cancer, your treatment plan will depend on the stage of the cancer, which is determined based on the depth of the tumor in the rectum wall, whether it has spread to the lymph nodes, and whether it has spread to other areas of the body. Surgery may be the only necessary treatment for stage 1 rectal cancer, while combinations of chemotherapy and radiation treatment may be recommended for stage 2, stage 3, and stage 4 occurrences.
Tampa General Hospital was recognized as one of the Best Hospitals in the U.S. for Gastroenterology and GI Surgery by U.S. World & News Report in 2017-18. The physicians and surgeons at TGH can diagnose and treat a full range of anal and rectal conditions, including rectal cancer. To find a gastroenterologist, use Tampa General Hospital’s Physician Finder or call 1-800-822-3627.