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Rectal Cancer

  201-227-6008    |      cancer@holyname.org

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Rectal cancer occurs in the rectum, the last six inches of the digestive tract. It is most often diagnosed by a digital rectal exam in a doctor's office or by colonoscopy. The prognosis and treatment depend upon how advanced the cancer is when found.

Approximately 40,000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year in the United States. It is slightly more common in men than in women.

The Patricia Lynch Cancer Center at Holy Name has a multi-disciplinary team of experienced and skilled surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, nurses and support staff to treat rectal cancer. Together they provide a compassionate, unified approach in creating a personal strategy for each patient's unique medical, emotional and lifestyle needs.


  • Rectal bleeding
  • A change in bowel habits - either diarrhea or constipation
  • Change in the size of the stool
  • Incomplete evacuation of stool
  • A feeling of always having to go to the bathroom
  • Weight loss

Risk Factors

  • Family history of colon or rectal cancer
  • High fat diet
  • Personal history of polyps
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Increasing age
  • Smoking
  • Obesity


  • History and physical exam - particularly a digital rectal exam
  • Fecal occult blood testing
  • Blood tests - including CEA, (carcinoembryonic antigen) a test to check the amount of antigen released into the bloodstream by cancer cells
  • Sigmoidoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • CT
  • Biopsy


The type of treatment used for rectal cancer is determined by the stage of the disease when diagnosed. Early cancers may be treated solely by surgery, which involves removing the part of the rectum with the cancer, as well as surrounding lymph nodes. With modern techniques, this surgery rarely requires a colostomy - a bag outside the body to collect waste.

When the cancer is at an advanced stage and has spread, a combination of chemotherapy and radiation are given, followed by several weeks of recovery before surgery is performed. Chemotherapy and radiation are used to slow the growth of cancer cells and prevent the disease from further metastasizing.