Rectal Cancer: Care Instructions

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Colon and rectum

Overview

Rectal cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow out of control in your rectum.

If the tumor was small and had not spread, your doctor may have removed it during the colonoscopy. But you may need surgery to remove the cancer if the tumor was too big or had spread too far to be removed during a colonoscopy. If cancer has spread to another part of your body, such as the liver, you may need surgery or other treatments.

Treatment for rectal cancer may also include radiation therapy. Medicines that destroy cancer cells, such as chemotherapy or targeted therapy, may be used. And medicines that work with your body's immune system, called immunotherapy, may also be used.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions to relieve pain. Pain from cancer and surgery can almost always be controlled. Use pain medicine when you first notice pain, before it becomes severe.
  • Eat healthy food. If you do not feel like eating, try to eat food that has protein and extra calories to keep up your strength and prevent weight loss. Drink liquid meal replacements for extra calories and protein. Try to eat your main meal early.
  • Get some physical activity every day, but do not get too tired.
  • Take steps to manage your stress, such as learning relaxation techniques. To also help reduce stress, get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, and take time to do things you enjoy.
  • Think about joining a support group. Or discuss your concerns with your doctor or a counselor.
  • If you are vomiting or have diarrhea:
    • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Choose water and other clear liquids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
    • When you are able to eat, try clear soups, mild foods, and liquids until all symptoms are gone for 12 to 48 hours. Other good choices include dry toast, crackers, cooked cereal, and gelatin dessert, such as Jell-O.
  • If you have not already done so, prepare a list of advance directives. Advance directives are instructions to your doctor and family members about what kind of care you want if you become unable to speak or express yourself.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You pass maroon or very bloody stools.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You are vomiting.
  • You have new or worse belly pain.
  • You cannot pass stools or gas.
  • You have new or more blood in your stools.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have new or worse symptoms.
  • You are losing weight.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.