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Understanding Rectal Cancer Symptoms


Rectal cancer is a form of colorectal cancer. The rectum is the last six inches of your large intestine. Rectal cancer develops slowly over 10 to 15 years.

At Dignity Health in the Bay Area, our cancer care team offers advanced diagnostic testing and imaging services to diagnose colorectal cancers at their earliest stages. To find out more about rectal cancer symptoms, Find a Doctor online.

Rectal Cancer Signs & Symptoms

Rectal cancer may not have symptoms in its earliest stages. However, screening tests, such as colonoscopy, can help doctors find and diagnose it before it’s advanced. As rectal cancer develops, it often bleeds into the large intestine. Over time, this can cause anemia (a low red blood cell count), which can be discovered during routine blood tests. Sometimes, this is the first sign doctors have that something is wrong. 

Symptoms of rectal cancer may include: 

  • Bloody or very dark stool
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, narrowing of the stool, or a feeling of incomplete emptying
  • Weight loss
  • Rectal bleeding, which you may notice in the toilet bowl or on toilet paper 

Because these symptoms are possible with other conditions, such as hemorrhoids, a visit with your doctor is necessary for an accurate diagnosis.

Diagnosing Rectal Cancer at Dignity Health

Because rectal cancer is highly treatable in its earliest stages, early detection offers the best chance for a cure. Screening tests are the most effective tool that doctors have to find early stage rectal cancer. Screening tests can find cancerous polyps before symptoms develop. There are various methods of screening for rectal cancer. Talk with your doctor about the best choice for you.

Diagnosing rectal cancer may include:

  • Medical history and physical exam to review your symptoms and look for other signs of cancer
  • Blood tests, including tumor markers and a complete blood count (CBC)
  • Colonoscopy to collect a biopsy
  • Imaging exams, including MRI scan, CT scan, ultrasound, and PET scan 

In order to plan the most effective treatment for you, your doctor needs a complete diagnosis, including the stage of your cancer (extent of cancer in your body). 

Dignity Health is committed to providing state-of-the-art advanced diagnostic and imaging capabilities for colorectal cancer. Visit one of our four convenient Bay Area locations: 

Dignity Health offers complete diagnostic care for patients with rectal cancer signs and symptoms in the Bay Area, including San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Redwood City.