Rectal Cancer Treatment

Different standart types for rectal cancer treatment are available for patients with rectal cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials.

Rectal Cancer Treatment Available

Different types of treatment are available for patients with rectal cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Six types of standard treatment are used

rectal-cancer-treatment-types

Rectal Cancer Treatment for Patients with Rectal Cancer

Surgery is the most common treatment for all stages of rectal cancer. The cancer is removed using one of the following types of surgery:

  • Polypectomy: If the cancer is found in a polyp (a small piece of bulging tissue), the polyp is often removed during a colonoscopy.
  • Local excision: If the cancer is found on the inside surface of the rectum and has not spread into the wall of the rectum, the cancer and a small amount of surrounding healthy tissue is removed.
  • Resection: If the cancer has spread into the wall of the rectum, the section of the rectum with cancer and nearby healthy tissue is removed. Sometimes the tissue between the rectum and the abdominal wall is also removed. The lymph nodes near the rectum are removed and checked under a microscope for signs of cancer.
  • Radiofrequency ablation: The use of a special probe with tiny electrodes that kill cancer cells. Sometimes the probe is inserted directly through the skin and only local anesthesia is needed. In other cases, the probe is inserted through an incision in the abdomen. This is done in the hospital with general anesthesia.
  • Cryosurgery: A treatment that uses an instrument to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue. This type of treatment is also called cryotherapy.
  • Pelvic exenteration: If the cancer has spread to other organs near the rectum, the lower colon, rectum, and bladder are removed. In women, the cervixvaginaovaries, and nearby lymph nodes may be removed. In men, the prostate may be removed. Artificial openings (stoma) are made for urine and stool to flow from the body to a collection bag.

    After the cancer is removed, the surgeon will either:

    • Do an anastomosis (sew the healthy parts of the rectum together, sew the remaining rectum to the colon, or sew the colon to the anus);
       
    • Radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy may be given before surgery to shrink the tumor, make it easier to remove the cancer, and help with bowel control after surgery. Treatment given before surgery is called neoadjuvant therapy. After all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery is removed, some patients may be given radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.

      make a stoma (an opening) from the rectum to the outside of the body for waste to pass through. This procedure is done if the cancer is too close to the anus and is called a colostomy. A bag is placed around the stoma to collect the waste. Sometimes the colostomy is needed only until the rectum has healed, and then it can be reversed. If the entire rectum is removed, however, the colostomy may be permanent.

     

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy:

The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. External radiation therapy is used to treat rectal cancer.

Short-course preoperative radiation therapy is used in some types of rectal cancer. This treatment uses fewer and lower doses of radiation than standard treatment, followed by surgery several days after the last dose.

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly in the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy).

Chemoembolization of the hepatic artery is a type of regional chemotherapy that may be used to treat cancer that has spread to the liver. This is done by blocking the hepatic artery (the main artery that supplies blood to the liver) and injecting anticancer drugs between the blockage and the liver. The liver’s arteries then carry the drugs into the liver. Only a small amount of the drug reaches other parts of the body. The blockage may be temporary or permanent, depending on what is used to block the artery. The liver continues to receive some blood from the hepatic portal vein, which carries blood from the stomach and intestine.

The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Active surveillance is closely following a patient’s condition without giving any treatment unless there are changes in test results. It is used to find early signs that the condition is getting worse. In active surveillance, patients are given certain exams and tests to check if the cancer is growing. When the cancer begins to grow, treatment is given to cure the cancer. Tests include the following:

Types of targeted therapies used in the treatment of rectal cancer include the following:

  • Monoclonal antibodies: Monoclonal antibody therapy is a type of targeted therapy being used for the treatment of rectal cancer. Monoclonal antibody therapy uses antibodies made in the laboratory from a single type of immune system cell. These antibodies can identify substances on cancer cells or normal substances that may help cancer cells grow. The antibodies attach to the substances and kill the cancer cells, block their growth, or keep them from spreading. Monoclonal antibodies are given by infusion. They may be used alone or to carry drugs, toxins, or radioactive material directly to cancer cells.

    There are different types of monoclonal antibody therapy:

  • Angiogenesis inhibitors: Angiogenesis inhibitors stop the growth of new blood vessels that tumors need to grow.
    • Ziv-aflibercept is a vascular endothelial growth factor trap that blocks an enzyme needed for the growth of new blood vessels in tumors.
    • Regorafenib is used to treat colorectal cancer that has spread to other parts of the body and has not gotten better with other treatment. It blocks the action of certain proteins, including vascular endothelial growth factor. This may help keep cancer cells from growing and may kill them. It may also prevent the growth of new blood vessels that tumors need to grow.

Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses the patient’s immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body’s natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or biologic therapy.

Immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy is a type of immunotherapy:

  • Immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy: PD-1 is a protein on the surface of T cells that helps keep the body’s immune responses in check. When PD-1 attaches to another protein called PDL-1 on a cancer cell, it stops the T cell from killing the cancer cell. PD-1 inhibitors attach to PDL-1 and allow the T cells to kill cancer cells. Pembrolizumab is a type of immune checkpoint inhibitor.

The information contained on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, you should always consult a qualified healthcare professional.  Cannabidiol (CBD) and other cannabis plant constituents should not be used as a substitute for conventional medical care. CBD and other cannabis plant constituents may interfere with medical treatment.

 Rectal Cancer Treatment“ (PDQ®)–Patient Version was originally published by the National Cancer Institute.”

PDQ® Adult Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Rectal Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <10/02/2019>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/colorectal/patient/rectal-treatment-pdq. Accessed <12/12/2019>. [PMID: 26389378]