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Reproductive System Diseases: Rectal Cancer

By HERWriter
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The University of California San Francisco Medical Center says rectal cancer occurs when cancerous cells develop in the tissue of the rectum. The Mayo Clinic goes on to say rectal cancer begins as small clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps. Although the vast majority of polyps are benign, some can become cancerous over time.

Although many rectal cancers develop for unclear reasons, certain factors are known to increase the risk. Mayo Clinic says these include age, smoking, inflammatory bowel disease, a high-fat, low-fiber diet, a sedentary lifestyle, and a family or personal history of rectal or colon cancer or polyps.

UCSF Medical Center and cancer.gov both report common symptoms of rectal cancer including a change in bowel habits; diarrhea, constipation, or feeling the bowel does not empty completely; either bright red or very dark blood in the stool; narrower than usual stools; general abdominal discomfort such as frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness or cramps; change in appetite; weight loss with no known reason; constant tiredness and vomiting.

Cancer.gov lists the four types of standard treatment for rectal cancer as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and targeted treatment.

The types of surgery include polypectomy. If the cancer is found in a polyp, the polyp is often removed during a colonoscopy.

Local excision involves removing the cancer and a small amount of surrounding healthy tissue if the cancer is found on the inside surface of the rectum and hasn’t spread into the rectum wall.

Resection is removing the section of the rectum with cancer and nearby healthy tissue if the cancer has spread into the wall of the rectum.

Cancer.gov says pelvic exenteration is used if the cancer has spread to other organs near the rectum. The lower colon, rectum, and bladder are removed. In women, the cervix, vagina, ovaries, and nearby lymph nodes may be removed. In men, the prostate may be removed.

UCSF Medical Center says some patients who undergo surgery for rectal cancer require a permanent colostomy — a surgically created opening in the abdominal wall through which waste is excreted.

Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing.

Cancer.gov says targeted therapy uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells.

Like most cancers, rectal cancer can be life-threatening. However if it’s found early, it’s highly curable. That’s why regular check-ups and screenings like colonoscopy are very important.


General Information About Rectal Cancer. Cancer.gov by the National Cancer Institute. Web 29 Aug 2011.

Rectal Cancer. Mayo Clinic by Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Web 29 Aug 2011.

Rectal Cancer. Mayo Clinic by Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Web 29 Aug 2011.

Rectal Cancer. UCSFHealth.org by the Regents of the University of California. Web 29 Aug 2011.

Reviewed August 29, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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