At a Glance
- Radiation therapy can injure the colon and/or rectum.
- Diarrhea, urgency, incontinence, and rectal bleeding are common symptoms.
- Symptoms may occur weeks or years later.
- Several treatments are available.
Experiencing symptoms of diarrhea, urgency, incontinence, and rectal bleeding can be a significant source of stress that calls for consultation with a physician. Those individuals with a history of prior radiation therapy exposure need to disclose this to their doctor. Radiation induced symptoms must be considered as a potential source.
Radiation therapy has been used in the treatment of a variety of disorders. Examples include prostate, cervical, and rectal cancers. Special care is taken by the doctors who specialize in the treatment of cancer using radiation (radiation oncologists) to minimize radiation exposure. But in spite of their best efforts, significant rectal injury remains a far too common side-effect. Symptoms of radiation injury to the rectum (radiation proctitis) or the rectum and sigmoid colon (radiation proctosigmoiditis) are quite variable. They can occur weeks to years after radiation exposure. In this article I will highlight the different injury patterns and discuss available therapies.
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