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Treatment options for rectal cancer are determined by the stage of the cancer — how advanced it is. Generally, treatment is more successful in the early stages. If fully curing the cancer is not possible, the goal of treatment is to improve quality of life by managing symptoms.
Dignity Health Central California offers compassionate, comprehensive, and advanced diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, including rectal cancer. Find a Doctor who can help you decide on the right rectal cancer treatment in Central California.
Rectal cancer is usually treated with surgery. The stage of the cancer determines how extensive the surgery will need to be. The entire rectum — the last six inches of the large intestine — may need to be removed in advanced stages. Your surgeon will connect the remaining section of the colon to the anus so you can empty your bowels normally. Early stages of rectal cancer require less surgery. Only the cancer and some surrounding healthy tissue is removed.
Chemotherapy is commonly used to kill rectal cancer cells or stop them from growing. It can be used as a primary treatment or to shrink tumors before surgery. Your doctor may recommend chemotherapy in combination with targeted therapies or radiation therapy to help prevent rectal cancer from returning after surgery.
Targeted therapy destroys cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. It uses specific markers that only appear on cancer cells to tell them apart from normal cells. Targeted therapy is often used when chemotherapy is not working or rectal cancer has reached an advanced stage. For some people, targeted therapy can be be more effective than chemotherapy alone.
Radiation therapy is the primary treatment option for rectal cancer when surgery is not an option. It is used to treat cancer that has spread to other parts of the body and to reduce symptoms.
Doctors also use radiation therapy to shrink tumors before surgery and after it to kill any remaining cancer cells.
At the end of the day, the treatment you receive for rectal cancer is based on your personal preferences. Your doctor will tell you about the benefits and risks of each option and help guide you through your decision process. The nurse navigators at Dignity Health Central California can also help you understand your upcoming procedures and treatments, as well as help you coordinate and schedule them.