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Rectal Cancer

Just 20% of all colorectal cancers are rectal cancer. That’s why expertise matters in managing rectal cancers — you need a care team that specializes in their diagnosis and treatment. You’ll find that expertise at the University of Michigan Health Rogel Cancer Center.

Rectal Cancer Care: Why Choose Rogel Cancer Center?

The specialists at Rogel Cancer Center use extra training and extensive experience to treat rectal cancers. Our surgeons operate on nearly 100 people with rectal cancer each year as part of our growing rectal cancer treatment program. We offer:

  • Specialized imaging: Our radiology experts are skilled in obtaining and interpreting high-quality diagnostic imaging for complex cancers. We determine the tumor’s exact location to inform your treatment options for rectal cancer.
  • Skilled providers: Our medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and surgeons are board certified and fellowship-trained in colorectal cancers. You can be confident in our knowledge and experience. Meet our team.
  • Preservation of function: Our experts use every method available to spare healthy tissue. When needed, our reconstructive specialists use advanced techniques to help preserve rectal function after surgery.
  • Demonstrated expertise: Rogel Cancer Center is accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Rectal Cancer of the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer. This accreditation confirms that our program meets the highest national standards for rectal cancer care.

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About Rectal Cancer

The rectum is the last 15 centimeters (7 inches) of your colon (part of the large intestine). As you digest food, waste products (stool) move to the rectum. Stool leaves the body through the anus during a bowel movement.

The rectum is lined with tissue that includes mucus-producing cells. Mucus lubricates the rectum to allow stool to move. Rectal cancer occurs when cells in the rectum’s lining grow in ways they shouldn’t. Most rectal cancer occurs in the mucus-producing glands of the rectum — a type of cancer called adenocarcinoma.

Rogel Cancer Center experts may diagnose rectal cancer before any symptoms develop. During screening colonoscopy, specialists insert a thin lighted instrument (colonoscope) into the rectum to examine the anus, colon and rectum for growths (polyps). If we find polyps, we may remove them so our pathologists can examine them under a microscope to look for cancer.

Rectal cancer symptoms include:

  • Abdominal discomfort (cramps or fullness)
  • Blood in the stool
  • Changes to stool shape (narrow stools)
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss or appetite changes

We may recommend additional imaging tests to diagnose rectal cancer or to see if cancer has spread (its stage). We may use:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: We use a special X-ray test to take detailed images of the rectum to see if cancer cells are present.
  • Endorectal ultrasound: Experts insert a probe into the anus and rectum. This probe uses sound waves to create detailed pictures of the rectum and surrounding tissue.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Our specialists perform an examination that uses radio waves and magnets to create images. Rectal MRI images show changes to rectal tissue that could indicate cancer is growing.

Rectal Cancer Treatment at Rogel Cancer Center

Treating rectal cancer requires a high level of expertise. Our colorectal cancer specialists create a customized treatment plan that meets your specific health needs. We offer:

Rectal cancer surgery

Surgery is the most common treatment for rectal cancer. You may have radiation therapy or chemotherapy prior to surgery to shrink the tumor or stop it from growing. Our surgeons remove rectal tumors with:

  • Local excision: We remove tumors that remain on the surface of the rectal lining and have not spread into the wall of the rectum.
  • Resection: Specialists remove the part of the rectum where the tumor is located, along with a small area of healthy tissue. We remove nearby lymph nodes so our expert pathologists can determine if cancer has spread.

Radiation oncology for rectal cancer

Radiation oncology experts use external beam radiation therapy to shrink and destroy rectal tumors. Specialists use a machine to target rectal tumors with energy that kills cancer cells. We may combine radiation therapy with chemotherapy (chemoradiation) before surgery to reduce tumor size and lower the risk for recurrence.

Systemic therapy for rectal cancer

We use certain medications that you take as a pill or as an infusion through a flexible tube placed in a vein (IV). These medications include:

  • Chemotherapy: Powerful drugs that enter your bloodstream to kill cancer cells
  • Immunotherapy: Drugs that tell your immune system to find cancer cells and destroy them
  • Targeted therapy: Drugs that attack only specific cancer cells, leaving heathy cells alone

After rectal cancer treatment, our surgeons provide follow-up care. Surgeons use a thin lighted instrument (scope) to view the rectum and make sure rectal cancer is gone.

Clinical trials for rectal cancer

Our specialists continually search for new ways to treat rectal and other GI cancers. Learn more about our GI cancer clinical trials and talk with your care team about whether a clinical trial is right for you.

Multidisciplinary Colorectal Cancer Care

The specialists at Rogel Cancer Center work together to treat all types of colorectal cancer in our multidisciplinary clinics. Our specialist team offers access to expert diagnoses and the most advanced treatments for colorectal cancers. The multidisciplinary approach at Rogel Cancer Center ensures you benefit from our team’s years of training, skill and experience.

Find GI Cancer Support Services

GI cancer support services at Rogel Cancer Center provide resources for you and your family during rectal cancer diagnosis and treatment. Our patient navigators walk you through your options and make sure you have all the information you need.

Request an Appointment

Learn more about how we diagnose and treat rectal cancer at Rogel Cancer Center. Call 734-647-8902 to make an appointment.