All About Rectal Cancer: Signs, Causes, and Treatments

All About Rectal Cancer: Signs, Causes, and Treatments

All About Rectal Cancer: Signs, Causes, and Treatments

Rectal cancer, like all other cancers, are more treatable with an early diagnosis. It is important to spot the signs and symptoms of rectal cancer as soon as possible to improve the chances of successful treatment and survival. This article will give an overview of rectal cancer. Learn about risk factors, symptoms, and treatments for rectal cancer.

What Is Rectal Cancer?

Rectal cancer is often mentioned in the same breath as colon cancer. Both fall under the umbrella terms “colorectal cancer” and “bowel cancer.” But there are very important differences between them. Intuitively the main difference is the location of the cancer.

The rectum and the colon connect and the large intestine.  The colon is located in the upper end of the large intestine. The rectum is roughly located within the last six inches of the large intestine and connects the colon to the anus (or back passage). Rectal cancer occurs when cancerous cells are formed in the tissue of the rectum.

What Causes Rectal Cancer?

Like all cancers, it is not straightforward to pinpoint a root cause for rectal cancer. Quite simply, the actual cause is not always known. But research has identified a non-exhaustive list of risk factors. Risk factors associated with a disease put someone at a higher risk of developing the disease. The chances of getting a disease will increase with the more risk factors an individual possesses. The magnitude of each risk factor can also influence the likelihood of developing a disease.

Various lifestyle-related risk factors of rectal cancer may include:

  • Overconsumption of red meat
  • Not eating enough vegetables
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Lack of exercise and being overweight or obese
Risk factors for rectal cancer based on individual characteristics may include:
  • Being aged over 50
  • Being of African descent
  • Having a personal or family history of colorectal cancer
  • Exposure to radiation therapy
Other causes may be an inherited gene mutation condition such as:
  • Lynch Syndrome
  • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).
It is also possible that growths in the rectal lining can become cancerous. Approximately 95% of rectal cancers are adenocarcinoma – this is when cancer starts as a growth formed in a mucus-secreting gland. In the case of rectal cancer, tumors typically begin as polyps that grow in the rectum’s lining.

It is important to note that these risk factors are only indicators of being more statistically likely to develop rectal cancer. You may have many of these factors but do not develop rectal cancer. Conversely, you may not have any of these risk factors and, unfortunately, still develop rectal cancer.

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Symptoms of Rectal Cancer

The symptoms of rectal cancer include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Blood in stool
  • Diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • A feeling that you are unable to empty your bowels
In the early stages of rectal cancer, symptoms are less clear. But as the cancer progresses, there will be:
  • Noticeable changes to bowel movement habits,
  • Thin, ribbon-like stool
  • Frequent/substantial rectal bleeding
If rectal cancer has spread to other parts of the body (metastasized), you may exhibit:
  • Persistent cough
  • Bone pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice
  • Swelling in the hands and feet
  • Changes in vision or speech

Types of Rectal Cancer

Other types of rectal cancer include:

  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumors
  • Carcinoid tumors
  • Lymphoma

Treatments for Rectal Cancer

There are two main types of treatment for rectal cancer, either drug therapy or surgery. Usually, some form of surgery is needed for rectal cancer. But a combination of both drugs and surgery can be part of a patient’s treatment plan. How a treatment plan is devised depends on variables such as:

  • The stage of the cancer
  • The probability of the treatment being effective on the specific type of cancer
  • The age of the patient
  • Other health problems the patient may have
  • How the patient feels about possible side effects to the treatment
  • The specific genes or proteins the cancer might have
Types of drug therapy available are:
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy
Types of surgery available are:
  • Trans-anal endoscopic microsurgery (TEM) – the surgeon removes the cancer along with a border (margin) of healthy tissue.
  • Total mesorectal excision (TME) – the surgeon removes the part of the rectum that contains cancer, a border (margin) of healthy tissue around it, and the fatty tissue (mesorectum) around the rectum.
Radiation treatment may be used before or after surgery. This treatment involves aiming high-energy rays to kill cancerous cells.

If you suffer from any of the symptoms highlighted in this article or want more information about treatments and their associated risks and side effects, please contact us for a free consultation today.

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