Rectal Cancer

November 12, 2012

Rectal Cancer

Rectal cancer is a disease in which malignant cells form in the tissues of the rectum – part of the body’s digestive system. The digestive system consist of four sections – beginning with the esophagus, leading into the stomach, then the small intestine and large intestine. The large bowel, or colon, is located within the first six feet of the large intestine and the last six inches of this section for the rectum and anal canal which ends in the opening of the large intestine of the outside of the body (this is the anus). The digestive system is the area which processes and removes the nutrients our body needs from the foods we ingest and then passes the waste material out of the body.

There are several possible risk factors for rectal cancer age being the most well known – those over 40 seem to be at increased risk. Those with the presence of some hereditary conditions, such as HNPCC, or with a personal history of conditions such as colorectal cancer, polyps of the bowel, ovary or breast cancer may be at increased risk of developing this type of cancer. A close family member (sibling, parent or child) with a history of colorectal cancer or polyps is also considered to be a risk factor.

It is important for all of us to be aware of the possible signs and symptoms for rectal cancer since this is where diagnosis and a successful cure will begin.

A change in bowel habits or blood in the stools are probably the first and most obvious signs of rectal cancer. (Blood in the stool is indicated by a change in colour to very dark or red). Other symptoms or problems may include diarrhea, constipation – a general change in ones bowel habits. Stools which are a different shape than is normal for oneself – more narrow perhaps for example. Discomfort in the abdominal area – bloating, a feeling of fullness, cramps, gas with the associated pain. A feeling that the bowel has not fully emptied. A change in appetite and/or unexplained weight loss. Extreme fatigue. If any or all of these symptoms are present then a medical practitioner should be consulted at once in order to exclude or treat this disease.

Tests for rectal cancer may include:

  • The Medical Practitioner inserts a lubricated, gloved, finger into the lower part of the rectum to feel for lumps or anything unusual – generally called a Digital Rectum Exam.

  • A proctoscope, a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing, may be inserted into the rectum. This tool may also be able to quickly remove a piece of tissue for examination.

  • A Colonoscopy is a procedure commonly used to look for signs ofcancer- a camera is inserted in the rectum to look for polyps, abnormalities or cancer -it may also remove any polyps or tissue samples.

  • A biopsy entails the removal of cells or tissues to be viewed under a microscope to look for any indications of cancer. Tissue removed from the patient may also be tested for the gene mutation which causes HNPCC.

  • Laboratory tests on the tissues samples will include looking for changes in the function or structure of genes, a test for antigens which will also tell the difference between different types of cancer. A test to measure the level of CEA – which is released into the bloodstream and may (when present in higher than average amounts) indicate the presence of cancer in the rectum or other conditions.

Correct diagnosis of rectal cancer will help the medics to plan the best course of treatment.

The prognosis and treatment of this cancer can be affected by several factors including the spread of the cancer – has it affected the whole rectum, or other organs in the body? Has the tumour spread through the bowel wall? Is it found in the rectum? Can all of the tumour be removed? Is the bowel blocked or perforated? Is this a recurrence or a new diagnosis? How is the patient’s general health?

After a diagnosis of rectal cancer further tests may be required to eliminate other cancers.


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