What Are the Symptoms of Rectal Cancer?

The symptoms of rectal cancer include changes in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, and continuous abdominal discomfort, including gas, cramps or pain, explains Mayo Clinic. Other symptoms include a consistent sensation that the bowel is not completely empty, weakness, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss.

Rectal cancer is staged like colon cancer, and treatment depends on the extent of the spread and invasion, notes WebMD. In stage 0 rectal cancer, the tumor is limited to the inner lining of the rectum, and treatment involves the surgical removal of a small piece of rectum or external and internal radiation therapy. In stage 1 rectal cancer, the tumor breaks through the inner lining of the rectum and does not spread past the muscle layer. Treatment options in this stage include surgery that removes the tumor or radiation with chemotherapy.

In stage 2 rectal cancer, the tumor spreads past the bowel and, in many cases, invades the surrounding organs, including the prostate, bladder or uterus, without spreading to the lymph nodes, according to WebMD. The treatment during this stage involves surgery that removes all of the involved organs, radiation therapy before or after the surgery, as well as four months of chemotherapy after the surgery.

Stage 3 rectal cancer is marked by the invasion of the surrounding lymph nodes, and therapy involves surgery that removes the tumor, radiation with chemotherapy before or after the surgery, and elective chemotherapy after the surgery, describes WebMD. In stage 4 rectal cancer, the tumor spreads to distant sites of the body and can involve organs including the lungs or liver. Because the cancer is widespread, treatment often involves chemotherapy. In this stage surgery can be performed for symptom relief and is not considered to be curative.