The signs of advanced rectal cancer are such that they are almost impossible to ignore.
In fact, it takes no diagnostic knowledge whatsoever to observe these symptoms and know that something serious is happening.
They include, but are not limited to, painful and unremitting constipation, bleeding from the anus, and large masses protruding from the anus.
Only the most recalcitrant person would ignore these types of symptoms and fail to seek medical care.
Sadly, when rectal cancer reaches this point, treatment options are few, extreme, and their outcomes are limited. Complete bowel resections and colostomies are some of the more common treatments at this stage.
The real tragedy here is that on the other end of the scale, when rectal cancer is caught in its earliest stages, it is highly treatable and the outcomes are generally very good.
The problem is that early warning signs almost don’t exist, especially ones that you can see outside of a medical evaluation and therein lies the rub.
The only way to properly screen for rectal cancer in its earliest, most treatable, stages are screening tests that are performed in a doctor’s office.
The digital rectal exam and occult fecal blood studies that can be performed in any doctor’s office are the best ways to screen for rectal cancer in its earliest stages, when it responds best to treatment.
While these tests may be embarrassing and minimally uncomfortable, there is no other technology that provides us with the results these two simple screening tools can. Even the advances in radiological studies don’t really come into play until one or more of these tests indicate a serious problem.
If you have a familial history of rectal cancer, you should be more aggressive in your annual physical examinations. Be sure to let your practitioner know if there is any history of rectal cancer in your family.
Bright red blood from the rectum usually indicates a rip or tear, such as an anal fissure, or bleeding hemorrhoids in the lower bowel.
That in and of itself usually has no relationship to rectal cancer, however, it should be brought to the attention of your physician, particularly if the bleeding is heavy, lasts for several days, or is recurrent.
To avoid anal fissures or bleeding hemorrhoids, avoid straining when you have a bowel movement, and take measures to prevent constipation.