USC Surgery / Conditions / Rectal Cancer
Anatomical image of a tumor in a rectum.

Rectal cancer can be a surgical challenge. The location of a tumor deep within the bony pelvis often makes the area to be treated inaccessible. Our surgeons have special training and expertise to allow them to safely remove tumors located close to the anus and safely reconstruct the bowel, leaving the sphincter mechanism intact. All but the lowest tumors are amenable to this approach. A laparoscopic or minimally invasive technique is also possible for many patients.

While bowel patterns will never be the same as before the operation, a sphincter-sparing procedure allows one to use the toilet “normally,” without a permanent colostomy. A temporary stoma (artificial opening) is commonly necessary to allow the area to heal completely, but this is reversible.

Make an appointment with our physicians to see if you qualify for this approach; we offer it to our patients whenever possible. When we cannot, it is because it would compromise the tumor removal and decrease the possibility of a cure. Our biggest goal is to cure your disease, but we take great care to spare sphincters whenever possible.

Signs and symptoms of rectal cancer

Although rectal cancer rarely shows any symptoms during its early stages, there are warning signs:

  • Change in bowel habits
  • Blood in the stool
  • Recurring stomach discomfort such as gas, cramping or pain.
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

Factors that increase the risk of rectal cancer

  • Smoking
  • Inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
  • High-fat, low-fiber diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Family history of colorectal cancer or colon polyps

Treatments
There are many treatments available, including: