Rectal Cancer Prevention: What You Need to Know

Sep 20, 2022

Rectal Cancer Prevention: What You Need to Know

Rectal cancer affects about 5% of the population. Fortunately, with early screening, you can have benign growths removed before they turn cancerous, or find cancer early and improve your odds of beating the disease. Here’s what you should know.

Rectal cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the rectum and affects about 5% of adults in the United States. As the lower part of the large intestine, the rectum connects the intestine to the anus. 

The role of the rectum is to let you know when it’s time to use the toilet, and to hold onto the stool until you can make it to the bathroom to defecate. 

The most common sign of rectal cancer is rectal bleeding. You may notice either blood on the toilet paper or blood in your stool. While rectal bleeding is usually painless, some people experience discomfort depending on the location of the tumor. 

Other possible signs of rectal cancer include diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and weight loss. In some cases, rectal cancer doesn’t present any symptoms at all.

Read on as our experienced specialists at Fairfax Colon & Rectal Surgery, PC explain the screening guidelines for early colorectal cancer detection, the possible causes and risk factors of rectal cancer, and ways you can reduce your risk of developing it.

Screening guidelines for rectal cancer

Starting at the age of 45, adults are advised to have a colonoscopy every 5 to 10 years, depending on the type of screening test they choose. People who benefit from getting tested earlier (starting at the age of 40) include anyone who’s been diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) as well as those with a family history of rectal cancer. 

Early testing allows a specialist to remove precancerous lesions before they have the chance to become cancerous; it also helps them detect cancer cells early, significantly increasing your odds of survival. 

Rectal cancer causes and prevention 

Experts don’t know exactly what causes rectal cancer, but there are a few risk factors you should be aware of. These include:

  • Tobacco use (including smokeless)
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Male gender
  • Advanced age (60 years or older) 
  • Eating a diet high in processed foods
  • Close family history of rectal cancer 

Certain risk factors can’t be changed, but avoiding tobacco, staying active, and eating a healthier diet can decrease your risk for many conditions associated with aging, including rectal cancer. 

Exposure to glyphosate, a broad-spectrum herbicide used in farming, raises the risk for a number of cancers — including rectal cancer — by anywhere between 30% and 60%. 

Get screened for rectal cancer with us 

If you’re aged 45 or older, or if you have significant risk factors for rectal cancer, having a routine colonoscopy screening could save your life. The survival rate for early-stage rectal cancer that hasn’t yet spread is 91%. As rectal cancer spreads unchecked, however, the survival rate drops to just 63%.