Rectal Cancer: Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, Treatment

Rectal Cancer

Rectal cancer is a serious medical condition that affects the rectum, which is the final part of the large intestine. It is a type of colorectal cancer and is characterized by the growth of abnormal cells in the lining of the rectum. Rectal cancer typically begins as small, noncancerous polyps on the inner lining of the rectum. Over time, these polyps can develop into cancerous tumors if left untreated. The exact cause of rectal cancer is unknown, but certain risk factors such as age, family history, and lifestyle choices like smoking and a diet high in red meat have been associated with an increased likelihood of developing this disease. Early detection plays a crucial role in successfully treating rectal cancer. Common symptoms include changes in bowel habits, blood in stool, abdominal pain or discomfort, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue. If you experience any of these symptoms or have concerns about your health, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment. Treatment options for rectal cancer may include surgery to remove tumors or affected portions of the rectum, chemotherapy to kill cancer cells throughout the body, radiation therapy to target specific areas affected by cancer cells, or a combination of these approaches depending on individual circumstances.

Symptoms of  Rectal cancer

If you suspect you or someone else is experiencing Rectal cancer, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention by calling emergency services or consult with a Cancer Specialist.


One of the primary causes of rectal cancer is age. As individuals get older, their risk of developing this type of cancer increases. Other risk factors include a family history of colorectal cancers, certain inherited gene mutations, and a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Lifestyle choices can also play a role in the development of rectal cancer. Factors such as a diet high in processed meats and low in fiber, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption have been linked to an increased risk. It's important to note that while these factors may increase the risk of developing rectal cancer, they do not guarantee its occurrence. Regular screenings and early detection through colonoscopies can significantly reduce mortality rates associated with this disease. By understanding the causes and taking proactive steps towards prevention and early detection, individuals can effectively reduce their risk and potentially avoid the devastating impact of rectal cancer.

Risk Factors

Several risk factors have been identified for rectal cancer. One of the primary factors is age, as the incidence of rectal cancer tends to increase with advancing age. Other significant risk factors include a personal or family history of colorectal polyps or cancer, as well as a history of inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. Lifestyle choices also play a role in determining an individual's risk for developing rectal cancer. Factors such as a diet high in red and processed meats, low fiber intake, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and smoking have all been associated with an increased risk. It is important to note that while these risk factors may contribute to the development of rectal cancer, they do not guarantee its occurrence. Conversely, individuals without any known risk factors can still develop the disease. Therefore, it is essential for everyone to be aware of these risks and make informed decisions about their health.


Recognizing the symptoms of rectal cancer is crucial for early detection and effective treatment. While it is important to consult with a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis, being aware of the potential symptoms can help individuals take prompt action. One of the common symptoms of rectal cancer is changes in bowel habits. This may include persistent diarrhea or constipation, as well as a feeling of incomplete bowel movements. Additionally, individuals may experience blood in their stool or notice dark, tar-like stools. Unexplained weight loss and fatigue are also potential signs of rectal cancer. As the disease progresses, it can lead to a decrease in appetite and unintended weight loss. Fatigue may result from the body's effort to fight off the cancer cells. It is worth noting that these symptoms can be indicative of other conditions as well, but if they persist or worsen over time, it is advisable to seek medical attention. Remember that early detection plays a vital role in improving outcomes for those affected by rectal cancer.

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One commonly used method for diagnosing rectal cancer is a digital rectal exam (DRE). During this non-invasive procedure, a healthcare provider inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel for any abnormalities or tumors. While this exam can provide valuable initial information, further diagnostic tests are often necessary for a comprehensive evaluation. Another important diagnostic tool is imaging studies, such as computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These imaging techniques allow healthcare professionals to obtain detailed images of the rectum and surrounding structures, aiding in the identification and staging of rectal cancer. In some cases, a biopsy may be required to confirm the presence of cancer cells. This involves taking a small tissue sample from the affected area during an endoscopic procedure or surgery. The sample is then examined under a microscope by a pathologist who specializes in analyzing cellular changes indicative of rectal cancer. It is worth noting that advancements in technology have led to innovative diagnostic methods like virtual colonoscopy and molecular testing. Virtual colonoscopy utilizes CT scans or MRI to create detailed 3D images of the colon and rectum without invasive procedures. Molecular testing analyzes genetic material from tumor samples to identify specific genetic mutations associated with certain types of cancers, including rectal cancer.


When it comes to the treatment of rectal cancer, there are several options available that can be tailored to each individual's specific needs. The goal of treatment is to eliminate or control the cancer while also preserving normal bowel function and quality of life. Surgery is often the mainstay of treatment for rectal cancer. It involves removing the tumor along with a portion of healthy tissue surrounding it. This can be done through various techniques, including minimally invasive approaches such as laparoscopic or robotic surgery. In some cases, radiation therapy may be used before surgery to shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove. This is known as neoadjuvant radiation therapy. Alternatively, radiation therapy can also be given after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk of recurrence. Chemotherapy is another important component in the treatment of rectal cancer. It involves using medications that kill or slow down the growth of cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy can be given before or after surgery, depending on the stage and extent of the disease. Targeted therapies and immunotherapies are newer approaches being explored in rectal cancer treatment. These treatments specifically target certain molecules or immune system components involved in cancer growth, offering new avenues for personalized and effective treatments. It is important for individuals diagnosed with rectal cancer to work closely with a multidisciplinary team consisting of surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and other healthcare professionals who specialize in colorectal cancers. Together, they will develop a comprehensive treatment plan that takes into account each patient's unique circumstances and goals.

Preventive Measures

One of the most effective preventive measures is maintaining a balanced diet that is rich in fiber, fruits, and vegetables. Studies have shown that high-fiber diets can help regulate bowel movements and reduce the risk of colorectal cancers, including rectal cancer. Additionally, limiting the consumption of processed foods, red meat, and alcohol can also contribute to a lower risk. Regular physical activity is another key component in preventing rectal cancer. Engaging in regular exercise not only helps maintain a healthy weight but also improves digestion and overall gut health. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week to reap its benefits. Screening plays an essential role in early detection and prevention. Individuals above the age of 50 or those with a family history should undergo regular screenings such as colonoscopies or sigmoidoscopies. These tests can detect any abnormal growths or precancerous polyps in the rectum or colon before they develop into cancerous tumors. Lastly, it's important to quit smoking if you are currently a smoker. Smoking has been strongly linked to an increased risk of various cancers, including rectal cancer. By quitting smoking, you not only decrease your chances of developing rectal cancer but also improve your overall health.

Do's & Don’t's

When it comes to rectal cancer, there are certain do's and don'ts that can play a crucial role in prevention, treatment, and overall well-being. By following these guidelines, individuals can take proactive steps towards maintaining their health and reducing the risk of complications associated with rectal cancer. 

Do's Don't
Do seek medical advice promptly if you experience any concerning symptoms such as rectal bleeding, changes in bowel habits, or abdominal pain. Don't ignore symptoms or delay seeking medical attention if you suspect any issues related to rectal cancer.
Do follow your healthcare provider's recommended treatment plan, which may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of these. Don't skip or alter prescribed treatments without consulting your healthcare team.
Do maintain a balanced and nutritious diet to support overall health and aid in recovery. Don't consume excessive amounts of processed foods, sugary items, or unhealthy fats that may negatively impact your health.
Do engage in regular physical activity as approved by your healthcare provider to improve overall well-being and manage potential side effects of treatment. Don't engage in strenuous activities or exercises without consulting your healthcare provider, especially during treatment periods.
Do communicate openly with your healthcare team about any concerns, side effects, or changes in your condition. Don't hesitate to ask questions or seek clarification about your treatment, diagnosis, or prognosis.
Do practice good self-care techniques to manage stress, such as mindfulness, relaxation exercises, or seeking support from friends, family, or counselors. Don't neglect your mental health; seek professional help if you're experiencing emotional distress or anxiety related to your condition.
Do attend regular follow-up appointments as scheduled by your healthcare provider for monitoring and continued care. Don't skip or delay follow-up appointments or screenings that are crucial for monitoring your recovery and detecting any potential recurrence.

If you suspect you or someone else is experiencing Rectal cancer, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention by calling emergency services or consult with a Cancer Specialist.

Frequently Asked Questions
Rectal cancer refers to the development of malignant cells in the tissues of the rectum, which is the final portion of the large intestine just before the anus.
Common symptoms of rectal cancer may include changes in bowel habits, blood in stool, abdominal pain or discomfort, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, and a feeling that your bowel doesn't completely empty after a bowel movement.
Diagnosis typically involves a combination of physical examinations, medical history review, imaging tests (such as colonoscopy or MRI), and biopsy to confirm if there are cancerous cells present.
Treatment options for rectal cancer depend on various factors such as the stage of cancer and overall health condition. They may include surgery to remove tumors, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or targeted drug therapy.
Certain factors can increase your risk of developing rectal cancer such as age (over 50), family history of colorectal cancers or polyps, personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), smoking, obesity and a diet high in red meat and processed meats.
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