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Rectal Cancer Treatment

When you receive rectal cancer treatment at MedStar Health, you can expect the highest quality of care from specialists who have more experience treating this disease than most cancer centers in the region. Because we treat a high number of patients with this disease, we offer unmatched expertise that leads to your best possible outcome.

In fact, studies show that surgeons like ours who perform a high volume of the same surgeries are more successful in:

  • Removing rectal cancer
  • Preventing cancer from returning
  • Preserving the sphincter
  • Lowering the risk of a colostomy

Your treatment plan will be designed by a variety of medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists, as well as specialists, including gastroenterologists and gynecologists. Involving experts across a variety of disciplines allows us to customize a comprehensive treatment plan that considers your most promising options. Your treatment plan will be based on a variety of factors, including:

  • Where cancer is located in the rectum
  • How far cancer has spread
  • If the bowel is blocked
  • If there is a hole in the bowel
  • If it’s a new tumor or a recurring tumor
  • Your overall health condition

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What it is: When cancer is contained in the rectum, surgery is the most common treatment. During surgery, a specialist removes the tumor by entering through the opening of the rectum or the abdomen. This may be performed as open surgery or a minimally invasive procedure, like robotic surgery, which results in fewer risks, less pain, and faster recovery than traditional surgery.

Your surgery type will vary based on the stage and location of your tumor.

If you have a polyp: When a polyp appears suspicious or is confirmed to be cancerous, a surgeon can remove it during colonoscopy using a procedure called a polypectomy.

If you have a small tumor: Small tumors may be removed through a local excision, which means a surgeon will remove only the cancerous area.

If you have a large tumor: For larger tumors, your surgeon may need to remove tissues surrounding the tumor in addition to the tumor in a procedure called resection.

Because the rectum is a small body part, it’s important to select a highly trained surgeon with experience in reconnecting the colon to the rectum using a sphincter-preserving procedure. Otherwise, you may need a colostomy. During a colostomy, your surgeon will cut a hole in your abdomen and attach a bag to the outside of your body to collect waste. Choosing someone who specializes in sphincter-preserving procedures can significantly lower your risk of needing a colostomy.

How it works: For early-stage rectal cancer, surgery may be the only treatment necessary to completely remove the cancerous tumor. In other cases when rectal cancer has grown or spread, it may be combined with other treatments, including radiation or chemotherapy.

Robotic Surgery

Robotic surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that allows highly trained surgeons to remove rectal cancer with more precision and less pain and risk than traditional surgery. This allows you to recover faster, have less scarring, and experience fewer side effects. Learn more about the benefits of robotic surgery for colorectal patients.


What it is: Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancerous cells and prevent them from growing. There are a variety of chemotherapy options that can be useful in shrinking the tumor before surgery and minimizing your risk of cancer returning after surgery, especially if cancer spreads to your lymph nodes.

How it works: Chemotherapy is considered a systemic treatment, which means that it affects your entire body. When you need chemotherapy, our oncologists work hard to minimize your side effects so you can maintain a high quality of life.

Your team of oncologists and specialists will carefully calculate a dosage that may be given several ways, including:

  • Intravenously through a needle
  • Orally as a pill
  • Injected in a muscle

Learn more about chemotherapy


What it is: During radiation, our radiation specialists use advanced techniques to deliver radiation directly to cancerous cells while preserving the healthy tissue nearby.

How it works: When you have a tumor that is growing or has spread, radiation may be given before surgery to help increase the effectiveness of surgery. When radiation and/or chemotherapy treatments are used as a supplement to surgery, the recurrence of cancer is less than 10%, compared to historical rates of 20% to 30%.

Learn more about radiation treatment

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Our Locations

MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Cancer Institute
9103 Franklin Square Drive
Baltimore, MD 21237

MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital
5601 Loch Raven Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21239

MedStar Harbor Hospital
The Cancer Center
3001 South Hanover St.
Baltimore, MD 21225

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