What are the symptoms of rectal cancer?

The most common symptoms of rectal cancer are a change in bowel habits – such as diarrhea or constipation – or blood in the stool. In some cases, rectal cancer may not cause symptoms right away.

Other symptoms of rectal cancer may include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping.
  • Frequent gas pain or bloating.
  • Narrow stools that do not go away after a few days.
  • Weight loss for no known reason.
  • Feeling very tired or weak.

How is rectal cancer diagnosed?

Many rectal cancers are found after symptoms appear. Early-stage rectal cancers are usually found during colorectal cancer screenings, as most people with early stage disease do not have any symptoms.

If your doctor suspects you have rectal cancer, he or she may conduct a physical exam and ask about your medical history as well as your family medical history. The physical may include a digital rectal exam (DRE) where your doctor will insert a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to check for lumps or abnormalities.

Your doctor may also ask you to go in for diagnostic tests, such as blood or imaging tests.

If test results show you may have cancer, you will likely undergo a colonoscopy. Your doctor will also take a biopsy. During this procedure, we will remove a tiny piece of tissue from the rectal or polyp, and a pathologist will examine the tissue under a microscope to see if it has cancerous cells.

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Patient Support Services

Designed for Healing, Wellness and Recovery

Taking care of the whole patient is an important component of providing personalized cancer care. Integrated into the fabric of the Miami Cancer Institute, the Cancer Patient Support Center addresses the psychological, physical, social and spiritual needs of our patients during cancer treatment and beyond.

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