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Rectal Cancer Prevention & Screening

Rectal Cancer Prevention & Screening

Rectal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the rectum.

The rectum is part of the body’s digestive system. The digestive system takes in nutrients (vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and water) from foods and helps pass waste material out of the body. The digestive system is made up of the esophagus, stomach, and the small and large intestines. The colon (large bowel) is the first part of the large intestine and is about 5 feet long. Together, the rectum and anal canal make up the last part of the large intestine and are 6-8 inches long. The anal canal ends at the anus (the opening of the large intestine to the outside of the body).

Understanding your risk factors for rectal cancer can help you keep healthy habits and have more-informed discussions with your doctor about colorectal cancer Prevention and screening.

You can control some risk factors for rectal cancer but others you can’t.

What are the risks for rectal cancer that I can control?

The following risk factors increase your chance of developing rectal cancer:
  • a diet high in red, processed, or charred meats
  • a lack of exercise
  • obesity, particularly extra fat around the waist
  • smoking (studies show that smokers are 30 to 40 percent more likely to die of colorectal cancer)
  • drinking too much alcohol

What are the risks for rectal cancer that I can’t control?


Most rectal cancers occur after age 50 (unless there is a family history of the disease or a hereditary cause). However, in recent years there has been a troubling rise in rectal cancer rates among people as young as their 20’s and 30’s.

Family History of Lynch Syndrome or Familial Adenomatous Polyposis

Some inherited disorders dramatically increase your risk of developing rectal cancer. These include Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis.

History of Cancer

If you’ve had rectal cancer before, you’re at an increased risk of developing it again.

History of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s colitis, increase your risk of rectal cancer.

Family History of Cancer

You have an increased risk of rectal cancer if:

  • a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, had rectal cancer before age 50
  • several blood relatives have had rectal cancer
  • there is a family pattern of certain other cancers, including endometrial, ovarian, gastric, urinary tract, brain, and pancreatic cancers

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    How can I lower my risk of rectal cancer?

    These healthy habits, which may lower your risk of rectal cancer:
    • Eat more fruits, vegetables, and fiber and less animal and dairy fat. The American Cancer Society recommends that you eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Choosing such foods as beans and whole-grain bread, cereal, grain, rice, and pasta is a great way to improve your diet. Foods rich in calcium and folic acid (such as legumes, citrus, and broccoli) may also reduce your risk of rectal cancer.
    • Exercise regularly. Even moderate regular physical activity — such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, raking leaves, or walking — can help reduce your risk of rectal cancer.
    • Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is an important risk factor for rectal cancer.

    Screening information for Rectal cancer

    Rectal cancer can often be prevented through regular screening, which can find polyps before they become cancerous. Talk with your doctor about when screening should begin based on your age and family history of the disease. People with an average risk should begin screening at age 50

    Because colorectal cancer usually does not cause symptoms until the disease is
    The tests used to screen for colorectal cancer are described below.

    • colonoscopy allows the doctor to look inside the entire rectum and colon while a patient is sedated. A flexible, lighted tube called a colonoscope is inserted into the rectum and the entire colon to look for polyps or cancer.
    • Computed tomography (CT or CAT) colonography.CT colonography, sometimes called virtual colonoscopy, is a screening method being studied in some centers. It requires interpretation by a skilled radiologist to provide the best results. A radiologist is a doctor who specializes in obtaining and interpreting medical images. However, CT colonography may be an alternative for people who cannot have a standard colonoscopy due to the risk of anesthesia, which is medication to block the awareness of pain, or if a person has a blockage in the colon that prevents a full examination.
    • sigmoidoscopy uses a flexible, lighted tube that is inserted into the rectum and lower colon to check for polyps, cancer, and other abnormalities. During this procedure, a doctor can remove polyps or other tissue for later examination
    • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT)and fecal immunochemical test (FIT). A fecal occult blood test is used to find blood in the feces, or stool, which can be a sign of polyps or cancer. A positive test, meaning that blood is found in the feces, can be from causes other than a colon polyp or cancer, including bleeding in the stomach or upper GI tract and even ingestion of rare meat or other foods.
    • Double contrast barium enema (DCBE).For patients who cannot have a colonoscopy, an enema containing barium is given, which helps make the colon and rectum stand out on x-rays. A series of x-rays is then taken of the colon and rectum. In general, most doctors would recommend other screening tests because a barium enema is less likely to detect precancerous polyps than a colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, or CT colonography.
    • Stool DNA tests. This test analyzes the DNA from a person’s stool sample to look for cancer. It uses changes in the DNA that occur in polyps and cancers to determine whether a colonoscopy should be done.