Rectal Fistula

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed:

What is a rectal fistula?

A rectal fistula is an opening that is created between the rectum (anus) and an adjacent structure, such as a gland or the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside of the body). A rectal fistula that is a result of cancer treatment most commonly involves the rectum and urethra. It is a very rare complication.

Symptoms of a rectal fistula include:

  • Recurrent abscesses (abscesses that keep coming back).
  • Pain and swelling around the anus.
  • Pain and/or bleeding with bowel movements.
  • Bloody or foul-smelling drainage from around the anus.

A rectal fistula is a medical emergency and requires immediate care. Your provider may look at the area around the anus and if visible, diagnose a fistula. If the fistula is not easily seen, more tests may need to be performed and may include an anoscopy. An anoscopy is a test where your provider uses an instrument to see inside your rectum. An MRI may also be used.

How is a rectal fistula managed?

Rectal fistulas are treated with surgery performed by a colon and rectal specialist. Depending on the extent of the fistula, the procedure may be done on an outpatient basis or you may need to stay in the hospital for a couple of days.

When should I contact my care team?

If you have any of the symptoms of a rectal fistula listed above, you should call your provider right away. 

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