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Rectal Cancer

A rectal cancer diagnosis may lead to a lot of questions. At the Abramson Cancer Center, no one has to face a rectal cancer diagnosis alone.

Our team of world-class gastrointestinal cancer experts supports you through every aspect of your care. We offer leading treatment options, including proton therapy and clinical trials, with plenty of encouragement along the way.

About Rectal Cancer

Rectal cancer occurs in the last part of the large intestine (the colon). The rectum connects to the anus. Rectal cancer often starts as a polyp (a benign mass of cells) that eventually turns into cancer.

Colonoscopy or other rectal cancer screening can help your doctor detect abnormal cells before they cause obvious symptoms. Doctors recommend people at average risk start colorectal screening at age 50.

Certain factors can increase your chances of developing rectal cancer. People considered high risk may need more frequent testing or start at an earlier age.

Why Choose the Abramson Cancer Center for Rectal Cancer Care?

We understand the complexities of rectal cancer. Our multispecialty team of colorectal surgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists is passionate about providing the best care. We stay in close contact with you during your treatment and ensure you can reach us at any time through our easy-to-navigate patient portal, myPennMedicine.

When you choose us, you can expect:

  • World-class cancer expertise: Our fellowship-trained specialists treat all types of primary and metastatic rectal cancer. Our team includes nationally and internationally known colorectal surgeons who perform delicate procedures to remove cancer while preserving function. Meet our GI cancer team.
  • Innovative therapies: Our specialists follow the latest developments in all types of rectal cancer care. This means you have access to more options. We offer proton therapy (a specialized radiation therapy that’s not widely available) and clinical trials that explore innovative ways of destroying rectal cancer cells.
  • Diagnostic precision: Our doctors regularly treat rare GI cancers like rectal cancer, which helps us diagnose this disease with expert precision. We use advanced diagnostic tools to guide us to the best treatments for you. Read about GI cancer diagnosis.
  • Team-based care: Here, cancer care is a team effort. Regular meetings (called tumor boards) enable doctors with different areas of expertise to collaborate easily. The result is a treatment plan that’s highly personalized to your needs.
  • Comprehensive support: Our nurse navigators support you through whatever challenges cancer treatment creates in your life. They help schedule appointments, connect you to helpful resources and recommend GI cancer support services. Learn more about navigating GI cancer.
  • Trusted care near you: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) in Philadelphia is home base for our GI cancer specialists, but we have colorectal specialists located through the greater Philadelphia area, including Penn Medicine Radnor.

Our Approach to Rectal Cancer Treatment: The Penn Medicine Advantage

Genetic and molecular testing tell us important details about how cancer cells behave, including which treatments may be most effective at treating the cancer you have. You can trust our team to recommend therapies based on the latest cancer research and innovations.

Rectal cancer treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy: These drugs destroy cancer cells throughout the body. Our expertise enables us to match you with effective medications that cause minimal side effects. Chemoradiotherapy (a combination of cancer drugs and radiation therapy at the same time) may decrease the chance cancer returns after treatment ends.
  • Immunotherapy: These drugs boost your body’s immune system to better identify and attack cancer cells.
  • Targeted therapy: These medications target specific changes in cancer cells that allow them to grow and spread. We use specialized tests to match you with therapies that are right for you.
  • Radiation therapy: Specialized radiation therapies use powerful, targeted energy beams to precisely treat cancer while sparing healthy tissue.
  • Surgery: Our experienced surgeons perform complex rectal cancer surgeries (including sphincter preservation) to remove hard-to-treat tumors. Minimally invasive and robotic techniques enable us to remove cancer while preserving healthy tissue, helping you retain more bowel function. We use enhanced recovery protocols to help optimize your health before and after surgery so you recover more quickly.
  • Clinical trials: Your doctor may recommend innovative treatment options available only through ongoing clinical trials. Read about our GI cancer research.
  • Supportive care: We offer therapies that tend to your mind, body and spirit during what can be a stressful time. We also help you manage post-surgical problems or bowel and bladder function issues. Learn more about GI cancer support services.

Comprehensive Rectal Cancer Surveillance

Our team develops a follow-up plan to protect your health after treatment ends. Regular rectal cancer screenings and check-ins with your doctor can help us detect a cancer recurrence or other concern early.

We have a dedicated program tailored to GI cancer patients who have had radiation therapy. An advanced nurse practitioner meets with you regularly to identify and help you manage any long-term radiation side effects, such as bowel and bladder problems.

Request an Appointment

Call 215-615-5858 to speak with a cancer center representative who can guide you to the right rectal cancer expert for your needs. You can also request an appointment online.