Rectal Cancer Treatment & Prognosis: A Patient Guide

Rectal cancer affects about 5 percent of people worldwide. It develops when cancerous cells form in the rectum — the lowest portion of the intestinal tract.

Rectal cancer most often develops later in life — the age of 89 percent of rectal cancer patients is over 50, with the average age at diagnosis being 63 years in both men and women. Two of its most common symptoms are rectal bleeding and blood in the stools. 

Though receiving a rectal cancer diagnosis may be daunting, it is curable, especially when it’s caught early. This article will help you understand different treatment options your doctor may recommend after such a diagnosis and the prognoses that’ll follow.

Common Rectal Cancer Treatment Options

The most common treatment for rectal cancer is surgery, though the type of surgery may depend on cancer progression. 

If your rectal cancer hasn’t spread and appears as one or more polyps — which are small bunches of cancerous tissues — your doctor will use colonoscopy to remove all cancerous tissue. On the other hand, if your cancer has spread, your doctor might recommend resection or pelvic exenteration.

In some cases, your doctor may ask you to undergo cryosurgery — where the cancerous tissue is frozen and killed off — or radiofrequency ablation — where the cancer is prodded with electrodes.

Besides surgery, rectal cancer treatment may include:

Prognosis and Rectal Cancer Recovery

The average 5-year survival rate for rectal cancer at any stage is 63 percent. Overall, the earlier the cancer is caught and treated, the better it is. For example, if rectal cancer is caught before it spreads to other parts of the body, the survival rate jumps to 91 percent. 

This, however, is the prognosis right after your first diagnosis of rectal cancer. Treatments as well as various other factors like age and pre-existing conditions may change your prognosis.

If your cancer is removed by surgery, you may have to stay in the hospital for several days before you’re released to recover at home. And, recovery at home can take between 3 and 6 weeks on average.

The recurrence rate can vary — it can sometimes be as high as 30 to 40 percent, especially when the cancer is treated with surgery alone. Typically, surgery is followed up by a few weeks of chemotherapy in order to lessen the chances of recurrence.

Factors Influencing Rectal Cancer Treatment and Prognosis

Many factors can affect how your rectal cancer reacts to the treatment and how it progresses. One thing that may heavily impact your rectal cancer prognosis is the stage at which the cancer is discovered. For instance, rectal cancer discovered at stage 0 or 1 will have a much better chance of being rooted out than rectal cancer discovered at stage 3 or 4. 

Diet and exercise can also affect your rectal cancer prognosis. In fact, a healthy diet and exercise are two ways to reduce your risk of rectal cancer. On the other hand, increased alcohol or substance abuse may increase your risk. Another factor that plays a role is age: increased age often correlates with decreased survival rate.

Diagnosed With Rectal Cancer? NVSCC Is Here to Help 

Every case is different, so every treatment plan has to be different. At Nevada Surgery & Cancer Center, we begin with genetic testing to help you understand your cancer fully and how you can beat it. From there, we’ll work with you to come up with a treatment plan. NVSCC even offers genetic counseling to test for your cancer risk before a diagnosis is even needed.

When it comes to a rectal cancer diagnosis, clear information is hope — and that’s what we offer.