Rectal Cancer

Rectal cancer occurs when cancer cells develop in the rectum, the bottom 6 inches of your colon (large intestine). Like colon cancer, rectal cancer is highly curable if detected in early stages through screening methods, like colonoscopy. In comparison, colorectal cancer refers to any cancer that may occur in the colon or rectum. About 5 percent of Americans will develop colorectal cancer during their lifetime. Of those people, about 11 percent are under the age of 50. Colorectal polyps (benign, abnormal growths) affect about 20 percent to 30 percent of American adults.

Rectal Cancer Staging Tests

Your physician will use a combination of the following tests to provide information about the staging or extent of cancer:

  • Computed Tomography (CT) scan A highly sensitive X-ray test that allows physicians to see "inside" the body and look at all of the organs. This test can help detect the presence of cancer that has spread outside the rectum.
  • CEA assay Carcinoembryonic antigen is a substance in the blood that may be elevated when cancer is present. Although not completely conclusive on its own, this test is used to help monitor patients after their cancer has been treated.
  • MRI An imaging test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to create pictures of organs and structures inside the body. This helps determine if the tumor has spread through the wall of the rectum and invaded nearby structures.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) A procedure in which an endoscope is inserted into the rectum. An ultrasound can then be performed to determine how far into the rectal wall the cancer has grown.