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Rectal Cancer

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What is rectal cancer?

Rectal cancer happens when cells that are not normal grow in your rectum. These cells grow together and form tumors.

Rectal cancer occurs most often in people older than 50. As with other cancers, treatment works best when rectal cancer is found early.

What are the symptoms of rectal cancer?

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:

  • Pain in the belly.
  • Blood in your stool or very dark stools.
  • A change in your bowel habits, such as more frequent stools or a feeling that your bowels are not emptying completely.
  • Always feeling tired.

How can you prevent rectal cancer?

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:

  • Stool tests, such as the fecal occult blood test.
  • Sigmoidoscopy, which lets your doctor look at the inside of the lower part of your colon using a lighted tube.
  • Colonoscopy, which lets your doctor look at the inside of your entire colon using a thin, flexible tube.

Some experts say that adults should start regular screening at age 50 and stop at age 75. Others say to start before age 50 or continue after age 75. Talk with your doctor about your risk and when to start and stop screening.

Here are other things you can do to help prevent rectal cancer:

  • Watch your weight. Being very overweight may increase your chance of getting rectal cancer.
  • Eat well. Eat more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, poultry and fish. And eat less red meat, refined grains and sweets.
  • If you drink alcohol, limit how much you drink. Any amount of alcohol may increase your risk for some types of cancer.
  • Get active. Keep up a physically active lifestyle.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can make rectal cancer more likely. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

How is rectal cancer treated?

Surgery is almost always used to treat rectal cancer. The cancer is more easily removed when it is found early. If the cancer has spread beyond the rectum, you may also need radiation or chemotherapy. Other medicines that destroy cancer cells, such as targeted therapy or immunotherapy, may also be used.