Definition

Cancer within the rectum, or the final part of the large bowel

Causes

The exact causes of colon cancer are unknown, however there are several risk factors, including age, diet, family history of colorectal cancer or polyps and a personal history of ulcerative colitis, colon polyps, or cancer of other organs, especially of the breast or uterus.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms are rectal bleeding, and changes in bowel habits (such as constipation or diarrhea). These symptoms are also common in other diseases so it is important to receive a thorough examination. Pelvic pain and weight loss are usually late symptoms, possibly indicating more extensive disease.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis is based on physical examination, direct visualization and biopsy, while imaging through MRI or ultrasound are helpful in staging the cancer.  Other imaging and blood tests are done to help determine if the cancer has spread.  Depending on the precise stage and location of the cancer, different treatment options may be explored, including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.  Rectal cancer is more amenable than colon cancer to radiation which is often used prior to an operation.  Not all rectal cancers require a permanent ostomy (bag), but many patients will need one temporarily.  A multi-specialty team approach is important in caring for patients with rectal cancer.

Visit the American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons website for more information