Treatment at Mayo Clinic

By Mayo Clinic Staff


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Your rectal cancer treatment options depend on the size, stage and location of your cancer, your overall health, and your preferences. Your treatment team will discuss all of your options with you and help you decide which treatment best fits your needs.

Rectal cancer treatment typically involves surgery to remove the cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy also may be used.


The goal of surgery for rectal cancer is to remove the cancer and a small amount of the healthy tissue that surrounds it.

For small cancers on the surface of the rectum, surgery may be simple and require no incisions.

For larger cancers, surgery may involve removing all or part of the rectum (proctectomy). In some cases the remaining pieces of your intestine can be rejoined so that you'll expel waste normally. In other cases, your remaining intestine may be connected to your abdominal wall (colostomy), so that waste is collected in a bag on the outside of your body.

Mayo Clinic surgeons specialize in procedures that help avoid the need for a colostomy and that preserve the nearby nerves that are essential for normal bowel, bladder and sexual function.

Surgical approaches used to remove rectal cancer include:

  • Endoscopic surgery. During endoscopic surgery, the doctor uses a long, thin tube equipped with a camera and special tools to remove the rectal cancer. Endoscopic surgery can use cutting tools or lasers to remove small cancers from the surface of the rectum.

    A specialized type of endoscopic surgery called endomicrosurgery uses a high-powered microscope to analyze tissue samples. It allows for more rapid analysis of tissue samples, so that your doctor can be sure all the cancer is removed during surgery.

  • Minimally invasive surgery. During minimally invasive (laparoscopic) rectal cancer surgery, several small incisions are made in your abdomen. Special tools and a camera are inserted through the incisions and allow the surgeon to remove the rectal cancer without making one large incision.

    Minimally invasive surgery may offer a quicker recovery and a shorter hospital stay.

  • Robot-assisted minimally invasive surgery. Robotic surgery is a type of minimally invasive surgery. During robotic surgery, the surgeon sits at a console and uses controls to guide high-tech surgical tools.

    Robotic surgery has the advantage of allowing the surgeon to work more easily in small spaces and gives the surgeon an enhanced view of the area where the operation is taking place.

  • Traditional surgery. During a traditional, open procedure, a single incision is made in your abdomen and allows the surgeon to remove your rectal cancer.

Combined chemotherapy and radiation therapy

Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy uses high-powered beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. For certain cancers, such as rectal cancer, undergoing both treatments at the same time enhances the effectiveness of each.

Combined chemotherapy and radiation therapy is sometimes called chemoradiotherapy or radiochemotherapy. This treatment is often used after surgery in people with rectal cancer who have an increased risk of recurrence. For people with locally advanced rectal cancer, it may be used before surgery to shrink the cancer to a more manageable size.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may also be used on their own or in combination with surgery.

Feb. 26, 2015