How Long Can You Live With a Rectal Tumor? Rectal Cancer

Medically Reviewed on 6/28/2022
How Long Can You Live With a Rectal Tumor
Survival rates for rectal cancer depend on the stage of the cancer as well as your age, overall health, and response to treatment

Rectal cancer is curable if detected early, and the overall 5-year survival rate is 63%. Survival rates for rectal cancer depend on the stage of the cancer as well as your age, overall health, and response to treatment:

  • Localized (has not spread): Approximately 91%
  • Regional (spread to surrounding tissues or organs): Approximately 72%
  • Distant (spread to distant parts of the body such as the liver or lungs): Approximately 14%

What is rectal cancer?

Rectal cancer occurs when cancer cells develop in the rectum, which is part of the large intestine located between the colon and the anus.

Though men are slightly more likely to develop the disease, rectal cancer can affect both men and women. In most cases, people diagnosed with the disease are older than 50 years, although teens and young adults can develop the disease as well.

What causes rectal cancer?

The exact cause of rectal cancer is unknown. However, certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing the disease, including:

  • Age: The risk of rectal cancer increases with age (average age of diagnosis is 63 years).
  • Sex: Men are slightly more prone to developing rectal cancer than women.
  • Race: African Americans are more likely to develop rectal cancer than people of other races..
  • Family history: Having a family member diagnosed with rectal cancer raises the risk of developing the disease.
  • Certain diseases and conditions: Several health conditions that can increase the risk for rectal cancer include inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
  • Smoking: People who smoke are more likely to suffer from fatal rectal cancer.
  • Diet: People who eat a diet high in red meat and processed meat are at a higher risk of developing rectal cancer.
  • Obesity: Obese people are more likely to have rectal cancer than people in a healthy weight range.

What are the stages of rectal cancer?

There are five stages of rectal cancer:

  • Stage 0: Cancer cells are limited to the surface of the rectal lining.
  • Stage I: Tumor has grown below the lining and possibly into the rectal wall.
  • Stage II: Tumor has grown into the rectal wall and might extend into tissues around the rectum.
  • Stage III: Tumor has invaded the lymph nodes next to the rectum and some tissues outside of the rectal wall.
  • Stage IV: Tumor has spread to distant lymph nodes or organs.

What are the symptoms of rectal cancer?

Symptoms of rectal cancer may include:

How is rectal cancer diagnosed?

Most rectal cancer cases are diagnosed during routine screenings. Tests that may be ordered to confirm a diagnosis include:

  • ColonoscopyUses a long tube with a small camera to view the inside of the colon and rectum.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: Uses X-rays to obtain images inside the body.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Uses radio waves and magnets to capture images inside the body.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: Involves injecting a special dye that contains radioactive tracers to highlight the areas of disease.
  • Biopsy: Removes and analyzes a small sample of the suspicious tissue for cancerous changes.

Some experts recommend routine colorectal screenings after the age of 45 years and more frequent screenings if you are at a higher risk of rectal cancer.


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How is rectal cancer treated?

Treatment for rectal cancer mainly depend on the stage of cancer and may include:

  • Surgery: To remove cancer cells
    • Transanal endoscopic microsurgery (TEMS): Small cancerous areas from the rectum are resected by using a special scope inserted through the anus
    • Low anterior resection: Involves complete or partial removal of larger rectal cancers with anus preservation
    • Abdominoperineal resection (APR): Involves the removal of the anus, rectum, and part of the colon are removed along with colostomy (an opening or stoma is created in the abdomen, and the end of the colon is then attached to the opening and stitched for waste collection in a ba.)
  • Chemotherapy: To shrink a tumor before surgery or kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery
  • Radiation therapy: Uses strong energy beams to kill cancer cells or prevent them from growing and dividing
  • Immunotherapy: Uses drugs to boost the immune system to attack cancer cells
  • Targeted drug therapy: Target specific abnormalities in the cancer cells, causing them to die

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Medically Reviewed on 6/28/2022
Image Source: iStock image

Cleveland Clinic. Rectal Cancer.

American Cancer Society. Survival Rates for Colorectal Cancer.