The rectum, also known as the large intestine, makes up the last 8 to 10 inches of the colon. Its primary function is to store and expel waste. When cells displaying uncontrolled growth, invasion, and/or metastasis arise in the rectum, a cancer may develop. These cells, having undergone an anomalous transformation that causes them to proliferate abnormally, form structures called neoplasms. If these structures destroy adjacent tissues, and/or spreads to other areas of the body, a rectal cancer is formed.
Typically, rectal cancers arise from a collection of small, non-cancerous cells called adenomatous polyps. These polyps are usually asymptomatic, but frequently warrant removal in order to avoid cancer development. When these cells become benign, and a cancer is diagnosed, the disease may be curable. Curability, though, is dependent on an early-stage diagnosis and the overall health of the patient.
Each year, approximately 41,000 cases of rectal cancer are diagnosed in the United States.
Rectal Cancer Risk Factors
Family History of Rectal Cancer and/or Rectal Polyps: If you have a parent or sibling that has been diagnosed with rectal cancer and/or polyps, your risk of developing the same disorder is elevated. It should be noted that many cancer diagnoses seem to have a genetic relationship, when they are, in fact, the aftereffects of common environmental stimuli. For instance, family members that share common lifestyle factors may develop the same cancer, not because they have a genetic relationship, but because they have a lifestyle relationship.
- Age: Rectal cancer occurs predominantly in people over the age of 50. Only about 10% of diagnoses occur in people under the age of 50.
- Diet: Rectal cancer is associated with a diet low in fiber and high in calories and fats. Studies have shown that people who consume large amounts of processed and red meats are at a greater risk of developing rectal cancer. The Western diet seems to be especially related to the development of rectal cancer. Researchers are uncertain as to what in the Western diet yields so many rectal cancers, but statistics prove that people who move to Western societies are at a much greater risk of developing the disease than they would be in a developing society.
- Sedentary Lifestyle: An inactive lifestyle means that waste stays in the colon longer. Regular exercise helps the body pass waste more efficiently because it inspires the gastrointestinal tract to extract nutrients from the food at a faster pace.
- Diabetes: People with diabetes, for reasons that are not certain, are at a greater risk of developing a rectal cancer.
- Inflammatory Intestinal Conditions: Disorders that cause long-term intestinal inflammation, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, may lead to rectal cancer.
- Personal History of Intestinal Polyps: Benign intestinal polyps may indicate an environment in which a rectal cancer could develop.
- Obesity: Obese people are at a greater risk of developing a colon cancer. Additionally, people who are obese have a greater chance of dying from a colon cancer when compared to colon cancer patients at a healthy weight.
- Alcohol: People that consume large amounts of alcohol are at a greater risk of developing a rectal cancer.
- Tobacco Use: The inhalation of tobacco smoke and/or chewing tobacco leaves introduces an array of harmful chemicals into the body that may cause rectal cancer.
- Radiation Therapy for Cancer: Radiation therapies for other cancers may increase a person’s likelihood of developing a rectal cancer.
- Growth hormone Disorders: A rare disorder called acromegaly that causes excess hormone production in the body may lead to rectal cancer development.
Rectal Cancer Outlook
The outlook, or prognosis, for any cancer is unique for each patient. A patient’s survival is dependent on the stage of their cancer, their age, and their overall health, among other factors. The 5-year survival rates are as follows:
- Stage I: 70-80%
- Stage II: 60-60%
- Stage III: 30-40%
- Stage IV: Less than 10%
Rectal Cancer Prevention
If you are over the age of 50, it is imperative to schedule regular colon screenings with your healthcare provider. Furthermore, a series of lifestyle changes is recommended to avoid the onset of such a disease:
- Eat Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains: Fibers and grains contain wonderful nutrients – antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins – that play a vital role in the health of your gastrointestinal tract.
- Reduce Your Fat Consumption: Eat fewer processed and red meats. Also be aware that many oils, milks, and cheeses have a high-fat content.
- Stop Smoking and/or Chewing Tobacco: If you are a smoker, talk to your healthcare provider about treatments, therapies, and social networks that can help you quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start.
- Consume Alcohol in Moderation: Women should consume no more than one alcoholic beverage per day. Men, in some cases, can healthily consume up to two beverages per day. Some alcoholic beverages, such as red wine, may actually contribute to good overall health and happiness.
- Exercise: Regular exercise will improve many aspects of your health, as well as help you avoid cancer development.