Rectal Cancer: Your Symptoms Checklist to Know

Approximately 149,500 adults in the United States are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year. Of these, 45,230 are new cases. This disease is prevalent globally, but not many people know precisely what rectal cancer is, its causes, or its symptoms. If you suspect you have rectal cancer, this guide will help you determine if you should seek professional help from a cancer doctor

What Is Rectal Cancer?

Rectal cancer affects approximately 5% of people during their lifetime. Rectal cancer is a type of cancer that develops in your rectum when cancer cells have formed. Your rectum can be referred to as a chamber found between your anus and colon. Usually, the cancer cells will develop in the last six inches of your large intestine. 

What Are the Causes of Rectal Cancer?

In most cases, rectal cancer will develop when healthy cells in your rectum start to change or mutate. These mutations tell your body’s healthy cells to grow uncontrollably and continue living even when they should die. After a while, these cells accumulate and can form tumors, growing and destroying healthy tissue. In severe cases, these cancerous cells can spread to other parts of your body. 

To date, it’s unclear what exactly causes the mutations that cause rectal cancer, but there are a few risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing this disease. A cancer doctor will tell you about the risk factors to determine your chance of developing rectal cancer. It’s crucial to have routine rectal screenings with a healthcare professional.

Stages of Rectal Cancer

There are different stages of rectal cancer. Your diagnosis will primarily depend on the size of your rectal cancer tumor and if it has spread or not. 

  • Stage 0: You have cancer cells, but they are on the rectal lining’s surface only.
  • Stage 1: You have a tumor below your rectal lining, and it has possibly begun to spread into your rectal wall. 
  • Stage 2: A tumor has fully developed in your rectal wall and potentially spread to the tissues surrounding the rectum. 
  • Stage 3: A tumor has occupied some tissue outside your rectal wall and lymph nodes beside your rectum. 
  • Stage 4: Your tumor has spread to other organs and lymph nodes further away.

Common Rectal Cancer Symptoms

There are a few common signs and symptoms associated with rectal cancer:

  • Change in regular bowels such as bouts of constipation, diarrhea, blood in your stool, or more frequent bowel movements 
  • Feeling like your bowel does not empty completely
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Narrow stools
  • Abdominal pain

Rectal Cancer Treatment Options

Decades ago, a rectal cancer diagnosis was devastating, but survival rates have significantly improved with advances in science and treatment. Most people’s overall five-year survival rate is 67%. You should speak with a rectal cancer specialist even if you’re only concerned about potentially having rectal cancer. They can talk to you about your next steps. 

Your doctor will recommend the best treatment option according to your rectal cancer stage. These include:

  • Transanal endoscopic microsurgery 
  • Abdominoperineal resection surgery
  • Low anterior resection surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy

See a Rectal Cancer Specialist

Now you know what rectal cancer is, its cause, stages, and common symptoms. If you think you have this disease, it’s crucial to seek help from an experienced cancer doctor who can recommend the best treatment.