Colorectal surgeons, formerly known as proctologists, have been trained to provide surgical and non-surgical care for disorders and diseases affecting the colon and related structures.

Watch an Overview of Colorectal Surgery

About Colorectal Surgery

Colorectal surgery is the more modern and accepted term for the area of medicine fomerly identified as proctology. Colorectal surgeons are highly trained surgeons that diagnose and treat disorders affecting the colon, rectum and related structures. These may include hemorrhoids, anal fissures, fistulas, birth defects relating to the anus or colon, anal cancer, fecal incontinence, severe constipation, rectal prolapse, severe colic disorders, colorectal cancer, polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and a host of other diseases, disorders and conditions.

Colorectal surgeons often work in close collaboration with urologists, OBGYNs or gastroenterologists to provide comprehensive care to patients. The expertise of a colorectal surgeon is often sought when a patient has a condition requiring some type of corrective surgery (with simpler conditions such as small hemorrhoids often treated by the patient’s primary care physician).

During the diagnostic stage, colorectal surgeons may utilize procedures such as colonoscopies, which help the surgeon decide which type of treatment plan is necessary for that specific patient. When the diagnosis permits, a colorectal surgeon may perform a variety of surgical treatments, including: polypectomy, colectomy, hemorrhoidectomy (for more severe cases of hemorrhoids), anoplasty, strictureplasty, ileo/colostomy or laparoscopic surgery (minimally invasive, growing in popularity due to its decreased recovery time and lower risk to the patient), among other surgical treatments. Colorectal surgeons are also trained to perform operations to remove cancerous and pre-cancerous polyps, perform bowel resections, repair fissures and treat colon cancer.

Colorectal Surgery Education & Training

Education and training to become a colorectal surgeon is demanding and rigorous – it comprises approximately 14 years of post-secondary study. After earning a bachelor’s degree, the student must earn a DO or MD medical degree. Colorectal surgeons are required to complete a general surgery residency, which takes approximately five to six years.

Following residency training in general surgery, the physician must complete a highly specialized one to two year residency or fellowship program, where they will be trained in the surgical and diagnostic techniques and procedures performed as a colorectal surgeon.

All states require colorectal surgeons to be licensed, as with other medical specialties. The majority of colorectal surgeons seek board certification through an examination proctored by the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery (ABCRS). Similar to other physicians, colorectal surgeons are required to participate in continuing medical education to keep abreast of the latest procedures and techniques for providing the highest standard of care to their patients.