Rectal cancer, also referred to as colorectal cancer, is responsible for over 600,000 deaths per year across the world. Rectal cancer is the third most leading form of cancer and is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the Western World.
Rectal cancer is caused by the development of polyps in the colon. They usually begin as benign polyps, but they develop into cancer over a period of time if they are not taken care of. Rectal cancer is discovered by a colonoscopy. The treatment modalities for rectal cancer include surgery and chemotherapy.
For the most part, the risk of developing rectal cancer in the United States over a person’s lifetime is roughly seven percent. The majority of rectal cancer cases occur between the age of 60 and 70 years old and the risk is greater if there is a history of the cancer in the family. Smoking and excessive drinking of alcohol also increases the risk of developing rectal cancer.
Common Signs and Symptoms
The smallest signs and symptoms of rectal cancer include:
- Weight loss
The signs and symptoms of rectal cancer are divided into three categories: local, constitutional, and metastatic.
Local symptoms include:
- A change in bowel habits, including the frequency of bowel movements, blood in the stool, stool with mucus, and black stool.
- Bowel obstruction that causes pain
- A tumor in the abdomen that can be felt by the patient or the doctor
- Blood in the urine (hematuria).
Constitutional symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Heart palpitations
- Low hemoglobin level
Metastatic symptoms include:
- Liver enlargement
- Blood clots
- Pain in the abdomen
Other Signs and Symptoms
Other signs and symptoms of rectal cancer include pain and constipation. The constipation will take place over an extended period of time. When trying to go to the bathroom the patient will feel a lot of discomfort. The discomfort and pain will also be present during everyday activities such as walking, sitting, lying down, bending over, and running. The pain will occur at any time, no matter what.
Also, a change in your stool may include constant diarrhea instead of constipation. The diarrhea can be caused by the development of polyps or a tumor in the patient’s colon, which can also cause constipation.
Rectal cancer can also be considered a risk for the development of other cancers within the body, especially in the groin area of the body. This includes uterine cancer, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, Crohn’s disease, and perianal disease. Not all of these cancers and diseases will develop or appear in each patient and in some cases the only cancer that will be present is rectal cancer.
Just because a patient might have rectal cancer it does not mean that they will develop any of the other cancers or diseases listed above. Another associated disorder with rectal cancer can be the development of inflammatory bowel disease. This can be prevented with a regular colonoscopy.