Rectal cancer happens when cells that are not normal grow in your rectum. These cells grow together and form tumours.
Rectal cancer occurs most often in people older than 50. As with other cancers, treatment works best when rectal cancer is found early.
Most cases begin as polyps, which are small growths inside the rectum. These polyps are very common, and most of them do not turn into cancer.
Rectal cancer usually grows very slowly. It usually takes years for the cancer to become large enough to cause symptoms. If the cancer is not removed and keeps growing, it eventually will invade and destroy nearby tissues and then spread farther, first to nearby lymph nodes. From there it may spread to other parts of the body.
Rectal cancer in its early stages usually doesn't cause any symptoms. Symptoms occur later, when the cancer may be harder to treat. The most common symptoms include:
Screening tests can find or prevent many cases of rectal cancer. They look for a certain disease or condition before any symptoms appear.
Screening tests that may find rectal cancer early include:
Experts recommend colon cancer testing for everyone age 50 and older who has a normal risk for rectal cancer. People with a higher risk, such as those with a strong family history of rectal cancer, should be tested sooner. Talk to your doctor about when you should be tested.
Here are other things you can do to help prevent rectal cancer:
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
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Current as of: May 12, 2017
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
& E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & A. Evan Eyler, MD, MPH - Family Medicine, Psychiatry
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