Colon Cancer Home > Rectal Cancer

Rectal cancer is a disease that occurs when cancerous cells develop in the tissue of the rectum. Risk factors for the condition include having a family history of rectal or colon cancer, being 50 or older, and having a personal history of colon polyps. If symptoms are present, they may include blood in the stool, narrow stools, and diarrhea. Treatment for the disease may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of methods.

What Is Rectal Cancer?

Rectal cancer is a disease in which malignant cells (cancer cells) form in the tissues of the rectum.

Understanding the Rectum

The rectum is part of the body's digestive system. The digestive system removes and processes nutrients (vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and water) from foods and helps pass waste material out of the body. The digestive system is made up of the esophagus, stomach, and the small and large intestines. The first six feet of the large intestine are called the large bowel or colon. The last six inches are the rectum and the anal canal. The anal canal ends at the anus (the opening of the large intestine to the outside of the body).

Risk Factors for Rectal Cancer

People who are 50 years of age or older have a greater risk of developing rectal cancer than younger people. Other possible risk factors for this condition include the following:
  • A family history of cancer of the colon or rectum
  • A personal history of cancer of the colon, rectum, ovary, endometrium, or breast
  • A history of polyps in the colon
  • A history of ulcerative colitis (ulcers in the lining of the large intestine) or Crohn's disease
  • Certain hereditary conditions, such as familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (also known as HNPCC or Lynch syndrome).
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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