A colon and rectal surgeon is a medical doctor who treats diseases of the small intestine, colon, rectum, and anus, as well as intestine-related issues in the liver, urinary tract, and the female reproductive system. Colorectal surgeons are highly trained specialists who use medical and surgical expertise to diagnose and treat many colorectal diseases, such as haemorrhoids, anal fissures, fistulas, anal itching, anal cancer, rectal cancer, colon cancer, etc. They have full general surgical training and advanced surgical training in colorectal surgery. Colon and rectal surgeons are also referred to as proctologists, colorectal surgeons, colon specialists, and colon surgeons.
What Kind of Education and Training Do Colorectal Surgeons Undergo?
An aspiring colorectal surgeon undergoes rigorous training and education. First, they will need to complete five years of education in general surgery. They will then have to pass a written and oral examination to be certified as a surgeon, post which they have to complete a one-year residency with an emphasis on colon and rectal surgery. After passing their examinations with the American Board of Surgery, they have to then complete their certification exams with the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery. To maintain their board certification, colorectal surgeons must be enrolled in an ongoing certification program.
What Do Colorectal Surgeons Treat?
Colorectal surgery includes treating conditions related to the intestines and the urinary tract. In addition, since colorectal disease can have an impact on other parts of the body, colorectal surgeons can also treat the liver, urinary tract, and female reproductive system. Some of the conditions they treat are:
- Colon and rectal cancer and precancerous tumors.
- Diverticulosis, which is the growth of pockets on the wall of the colon.
- Fissures, which are painful anal tears.
- Hemorrhoids, which are swollen veins in the rectum and anus.
- Infections around the anus and rectum, including abscesses, fistulas, and anal warts.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Pelvic organ prolapse, including bladder prolapse and rectal prolapse.
- Urinary problems and irregular bowel movements including incontinence, ongoing constipation or diarrhea, and urinary retention.
What Does a Colorectal Surgeon Do?
A colorectal surgeon performs a range of diagnostic and screening tests to examine the conditions of the intestines and digestive organs. They perform tests such as:
- Barium enema (lower GI series of X-rays) to detect abnormal areas in the colon
- Sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy which scans the lower portion of the colon or the entire colon, respectively.
- Digital rectal examination to check for abnormalities in the anus and possible blood in the stool.
- General health and screening tests including blood clotting tests, blood culture, urine tests, chest and abdominal X-rays, blood glucose tests, electrolyte tests, liver and kidney function tests, and blood pressure screening.
- Proctoscopy to probe the rectum using a short, lighted tube called a proctoscope.
- MRI or CT scans to perform a virtual colonoscopy which would highlight abnormalities in the colon.
Colorectal surgeons also provide treatments such as:
- Bowel repair to remove any obstructions in the colon.
- Colectomy (colon resection) to remove all or part of the colon.
- Polypectomy to remove precancerous growths (polyps).
- Colostomy to make stool pass from the large intestine out through the abdomen.
- Incision and drainage of abscesses, including perianal abscess and pilonidal abscess.
- Haemorrhoid removal and other treatments for painful hemorrhoids.
- Prescribe medications such as antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Pelvic laparoscopy to diagnose and treat problems in the colon, urinary tract, and female reproductive organs.
Colorectal surgeons work in hospitals, performing countless surgeries each year. In addition, they may be involved in researching improved methods of diagnosing and treating diseases. Some are even involved in training the next batch of surgeons. Colorectal surgery is a unique medical field that requires its own specialization because it involves treating conditions specific to the lower digestive tract.