Rectal cancer affects more than 40,000 people in the United States annually. Despite recent advances in radiation and chemotherapy, surgical resection remains an integral part of curative therapy for this disease. Although rectal cancer is thought to be biologically similar to colon cancer, the anatomic complexity of the pelvis makes therapy for this disease considerably more complicated. Local recurrence is also a greater concern in rectal cancer than in colon cancer. The choice of surgical therapy depends on the location of the tumor, depth of rectal wall invasion, and clinical stage. Surgical options include local excision (transanal excision and transanal endoscopic microsurgery) and radical resection (low anterior resection, extended low anterior resection with coloanal anastomosis, abdominoperineal resection [APR], and pelvic exenteration). Technical advances such as transanal endoscopic microsurgery and laparoscopy also are changing the surgical approach to rectal tumors. Finally, chemotherapy and radiation are now frequently recommended in conjunction with surgical therapy. This article reviews the current surgical approach to treating patients with rectal cancer.
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