Skip to Content

Rectal Cancer Treatment

AtMD Anderson, your care for rectal cancer is customized by a team of experts with incredible expertise and experience. We work together to provide the most advanced, least invasive therapy, while focusing on your quality of life. Your treatment team may include:

  • Oncologists
  • Surgeons
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Gastroenterologists
  • Genetics specialists
  • Gynecologists
  • Specially trained nurses, ostomy nurses, nutritionists and social workers

Our doctors have special expertise in treating hereditary types of rectal cancer, as well as rectal cancer that has metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body or has returned being treated. Advanced genetic testing allows us to personalize your treatment for rectal cancer and determine if you or any of your family members may be at risk for other cancers.

Our Rectal Cancer Treatments

If you are diagnosed with rectal cancer, your doctor will discuss the best options to treat it. This depends on several factors, including:

  • The stage of the cancer
  • The location of the cancer in the rectum
  • If rectal cancer has just been diagnosed or has come back
  • If rectal cancer has spread to other parts of the body
  • Your general health

One or more of the following therapies may be recommended to treat rectal cancer or help relieve symptoms.


Surgery is the most common treatment for rectal cancer. It is the main treatment for rectal cancer that has not spread to distant sites. Surgery for rectal cancer is most successful when done by a specialist with a great deal of experience in the procedure. MD Anderson surgeons are among the most experienced in the nation.

Rectal cancer may be treated with surgery alone or surgery combined with radiation, chemotherapy and/or other treatments. Chemotherapy or radiation may be given:

  • Before surgery to improve the effectiveness of surgery with less impact on your body. This is called neoadjuvant therapy.
  • After surgery to help keep you cancer-free. This is called adjuvant therapy.

The type of surgical method used to treat rectal cancer depends on the stage and location of the tumor. Your doctor may recommend one of the following:

Polypectomy: Suspicious or cancerous polyps on the inside surface of the rectum usually can be removed during a colonoscopy. A colonoscope, which is a long tube with a camera in the end, is inserted into the rectum. The doctor guides it to the area needing treatment. A tiny, scissor-like tool or wire loop removes the polyp.

Local excision: If rectal cancer tumors are small and have not grown into the wall of the rectum, they sometimes may be removed through the anus.

Proctectomy (rectal resection): The area of the rectum where the cancer is located, along with some healthy surrounding tissue around the rectum, is removed. Nearby lymph nodes are removed (biopsied) and looked at under a microscope.

Depending on where the tumor is, the colon may be reconnected to the rectum or anus. This is called sphincter-preserving surgery. If the tumor is too low within the rectum or anus, a colostomy may be needed.

In a colostomy, a stoma (hole) is cut in the abdomen wall into the colon. Body waste goes through the stoma into colostomy, which is a plastic bag outside the body. Sometimes, a temporary ileostomy may be used to allow the reconnection of the bowel to heal after surgery.

Surgery may be done by:

  • Traditional open surgery
  • Minimally invasive surgery

Your doctor will decide which method is best for you.

During minimally invasive surgery, small cuts are made in the abdomen. A tiny camera and surgical instruments are inserted. The surgeon uses video imaging to perform the surgery just as would be done with open surgery. Minimally invasive surgery sometimes is done with the surgical robot (da Vinci®).

Minimally invasive surgeries for rectal cancer include endoscopic mucosal resection and endoluminal stent placement.

Pelvic exenteration: If rectal cancer has spread into other organs, such as the colon, bladder, prostate or female reproductive organs, those organs may be removed during surgery. Often a colostomy may be needed for elimination of bodily waste. Even with extensive resection, the expert surgeons at MD Anderson sometimes can perform sphincter- preserving surgery to avoid a colostomy.


MD Anderson offers the most up-to-date and effective chemotherapy options for rectal cancer.

Targeted Therapies

MD Anderson offers novel therapies for certain types of rectal cancer. These innovative new drugs stop the growth of cancer cells by interfering with certain proteins and receptors or blood vessels that supply the tumor with what it needs to grow, survive and spread.

Radiation Therapy

New radiation therapy techniques and expertise allowMD Anderson doctors to target rectal cancer more precisely, delivering the maximum amount of radiation to the tumor with the least damage to healthy cells.

MD Anderson provides the most advanced radiation treatments for rectal cancer, including:

  • Brachytherapy: Tiny radioactive seeds are placed in the body close to the tumor
  • 3D-conformal radiation therapy: Several radiation beams are given in the exact shape of the tumor
  • Intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT): Treatment is tailored to the specific shape of the tumor to reduce damage to normal tissue.

Proton Therapy

The Proton Therapy Center atMD Anderson is one of the world’s largest and most advanced centers. It’s the only proton therapy facility in the country located within a comprehensive cancer center. This means this cutting-edge therapy is backed by all the expertise and compassionate care for which MD Anderson is famous.

Proton therapy delivers high radiation doses directly into the tumor, sparing nearby healthy tissue and vital organs. For many patients, this results in better cancer control with fewer side effects.

Treatment at MD Anderson

Rectal cancer is treated in our Colorectal Center.

Clinical Trials

MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.

Knowledge Center

Find the latest news and information about rectal cancer in our Knowledge Center, including blog posts, articles, videos, news releases and more.


MD Anderson has licensed social workers to help patients and their loved ones cope with cancer.


Talk to someone who shares your cancer diagnosis and be matched with a survivor.

Prevention and Screening

Many cancers can be prevented with lifestyle changes and regular screening.