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Rectal Bleeding from Radiation


Originally published in Mayo Clinic Health Letter, October 1996. Illustration added.

Q. My husband underwent radiation therapy for prostate cancer. Several months later, he began passing blood with his stools and continues to do so. His doctor says the radiation is the cause. Is there any treatment?

A. Your husband's condition may be radiation proctopathy--a delayed form of rectal injury from radiation. There are several options for reducing or ending the bleeding that can accompany it.

Because the rectum is close to the prostate, radiation therapy for prostate cancer can injure the rectum's lining. One result may be the abnormal growth of tiny blood vessels near the surface that bleed easily. Studies have shown that between 2 and 20 percent of men who undergo radiation therapy for prostate cancer will develop this condition. Sometimes the bleeding can occur for years.
drawing showing positions of prostate and rectum Treatment depends on the severity of the bleeding. Your husband's doctor may ask him to just monitor the bleeding if only small amounts are being passed.

If the bleeding is heavy or anemia develops, stool softeners or medicated enemas may be prescribed. For severe cases, the most effective treatment uses lasers to destroy the vessels causing the bleeding.


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