Rectal cancer develops in the final section of the large intestine. Generally speaking, the cancer starts when abnormal cells form a small, slightly raised growth known as a polyp. Over time, the cells can reproduce and accumulate into a larger tumor, which can gradually spread to the surrounding tissues and organs.
Rectal cancer typically originates in the mucosa, or the outer layer of the rectal wall’s inner lining. However, as these cancers spread, they can grow into:
- The muscular middle layer of the rectal wall, known as the muscularis propria
- The fatty tissue that surrounds the rectum, known as the mesorectum
- The lymph nodes near the large intestine
Not all rectal polyps are cancerous (the same applies to polyps of the colon and anus, which are similar conditions in many ways). However, it’s important to find, diagnose and treat any unusual growths in the gastrointestinal tract as quickly as possible. Should a rectal polyp develop into cancer, early detection can give a patient a wider range of treatment options, which typically translates to a better outcome and a higher quality of life.
How Moffitt doctors approach rectal cancer treatment
At Moffitt Cancer Center, we take a comprehensive approach to rectal cancer screening and treatment. We emphasize the importance of being proactive; that’s why we offer a comprehensive range of preventive and diagnostic options, including colonoscopies and endoscopic ultrasounds. Additionally, our highly trained pathologists thoroughly analyze each tissue sample to determine if a polyp is benign, precancerous or cancerous. After evaluating the results, our multispecialty team of oncologists and supportive care professionals collaboratively determine the best treatment methods to recommend.
For patients who have been diagnosed with rectal cancer, we offer everything from surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy to targeted therapy, immunotherapy and other novel treatments. What’s more, our understanding of gastrointestinal treatments is not only extensive, but also expanding on a near-daily basis. As a result of our clinical trials and research efforts, our rectal cancer doctors are able to provide our patients with the most advanced and extensive range of treatment options, and we have been named a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute.