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What is rectal cancer?
Rectal cancer is a malignant tumor affecting the most distal part of the rectum. Although biologically it is similar to colon cancer, signs and symptoms of the disease and the treatment may differ.

Who is at risk?
Approximately 50,000 Americans are diagnosed every year with this cancer. The risks factors for rectal cancer are the same as for colon cancer and include a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, the presence of ulcerative colitis, a history of uterine, ovarian or breast cancer.

What are the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer?
The more common ones are:

  • Blood in stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Rectal pain
  • Rectal mass
  • Weight loss

Which test(s) and/or procedure(s) can diagnose colorectal cancer?
Procedures that detect rectal cancer include a digital rectal exam, x-ray with barium enema, colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and fecal occult blood test. Ultrasound via probe inserted into the rectum and CT scan are important staging tests for this disease

How is rectal cancer treated?
Treatment of rectal cancer depends on the stage of the disease, the location of the tumor and the health of the patient. The surgeon plays a critical role in forming a partnership with the patient and deciding the most appropriate health care plan, which may include the use of radiation, chemotherapy, combined radiation and chemotherapy in addition to surgery. There are many surgical options including resection of the tumor via an abdominal approach or a transanal approach, and fulguration of the tumor. For patients desiring to patients to avoid having a colostomy or "bag", we also have extensive experience with sphincter salvage procedures such as transanal resection and Coloanal J pouches. When a colostomy is needed, our technical experience has enabled many patients to undergo this procedure via a completely laparoscopic approach to maximize their recovery from surgery.

References: Blumberg D and Ramanathan RK. Treatment of Colon and Rectal Cancer. J Clin Gastroenterol, 2002; 34: 15-26.

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