Colorectal surgeons are medical professionals who specialize in diagnosing and treating conditions relating to the colon and rectal areas. They are also known as proctologists, colon doctors, or colon and rectal surgeons.

Colorectal surgeons are physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions relating to the small intestine, colon, anus, perianal area, and rectum.

Some may also use the term “colon doctor” to refer to gastroenterologists.

Gastroenterologists specialize in diagnosing and treating conditions affecting the entire gastrointestinal system. This includes the small intestine, colon, and rectum. As a result, both colorectal surgeons and gastroenterologists can perform some of the same procedures.

Colorectal surgeons and gastroenterologists may work together to diagnose and treat a person.

Gastroenterologists can diagnose and manage many of the same conditions as colorectal surgeons. Colorectal surgeons can perform surgery if the condition requires it.

This article examines different aspects of colorectal surgeons, including their qualifications, the conditions they treat, the procedures they perform, and when a person should consult with one.

Colon doctors pushing a person on a trolley into the operating theater.Share on Pinterest
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To become a board certified colorectal surgeon, a person must have:

  • graduated from an accredited medical school
  • successfully completed training regarding general surgery lasting for 5 years, which also requires a written and oral examination
  • an additional year training in an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Evaluation-accredited colon and rectal surgery residency
  • successfully completed training in colon and rectal surgery, which requires:
    • a written qualifying examination that examines their knowledge of diagnosing, treating, and surgical management of conditions affecting the anus, rectum, and colon
    • an oral certifying exam involving an interview with three teams of colorectal surgeons
  • experience in diagnosing, treating, and surgical management of conditions that affect the colon, rectum, and anus
  • a detailed colorectal operative experience record
  • recommendations from trained professionals for an American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery (ABCRS) review

Colorectal surgeons are required to become recertified every 10 years.

A colorectal surgeon can perform tests to diagnose the cause of:

They can also diagnose and treat the following conditions:

  • Anorectal conditions:
    • Hemorrhoids — swollen veins that can occur either internally or around the anus.
    • Anal fissures — small but painful tears in the anal lining.
    • Perianal abscesses — a lump that contains pus.
    • Fistulas — a small tunnel that develops between the skin near the anus and the end of the bowel.
    • Anal skin tags — small bumps of skin.
  • Polyps: These are small masses of tissue that grow inside the colon. Benign polyps are not cancerous and do not spread to other parts of the body. Malignant polyps are cancerous and can spread to other areas if they grow large enough or without treatment.
  • Colon and rectal cancer: A colon doctor will be able to screen and treat colorectal cancer.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): This is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract. Experts can categorize it by location of inflammation, disease severity, and specific symptoms. The main types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): This is a disorder of the large intestine, also called the colon. IBS symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, cramping, and diarrhea.
  • Diverticulitis: This is where the colon becomes infected and inflamed due to the presence of diverticula. Diverticula are small sacs or pouches that form on the colon’s wall.
  • Rectal prolapse: This is a condition in which the rectum, or lowest part of the large intestine, protrudes from the anus.

Many of the procedures that colorectal surgeons perform are exploratory examinations of the anus, rectum, or colon:

  • Anoscopy: They insert a long, flexible, lighted tube through the anus. This tube has a small camera on one end, allowing doctors to examine the anus and rectum. This helps the colorectal surgeon to visualize the anus, anal canal, and internal sphincter.
  • Colonoscopy: This procedure allows the doctor to look inside the large intestine and rectum. It can help them find the cause behind anal bleeding, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, and changes in bowel habits.
  • Digital rectal exams: The doctor inserts their fingers into the rectum to examine the inside of the lower rectum and the prostate. It can help diagnose the cause of anal pain and bleeding, constipation, and bowel incontinence.
  • Laparoscopic surgery: This is a minimally invasive procedure where the colorectal surgeon uses a laparoscope — a fiber-optic camera — to assist with the surgery.
  • Proctoscopy: This is where the doctor looks at the rectum and anus. They may take samples or remove polyps at the same time.
  • Sigmoidoscopy: This examines the lowermost part of the colon, called the sigmoid colon. It looks for polyps and other abnormalities.

Some specialized centers perform further uncommon or higher specialized procedures.

If a doctor suspects a person’s medical condition may need surgery related to the small intestine, colon, anus, perianal area, and rectum, they may refer them to a colorectal surgeon.

A doctor may refer a person to a colorectal surgeon if a person experiences the following symptoms:

People should speak with a doctor to find a colorectal surgeon.

They can also use the American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons’ website. The ABCRS also has an online tool to help find a colorectal surgeon.

General doctors may also recommend people consult a colon and rectal surgeon if they have constipation, diarrhea, and other digestive issues, as well as those who have undergone certain surgeries that might have damaged their colon.

According to the American College of Gastroenterology, gastroenterologists are medical professionals with a detailed understanding of how the gastrointestinal organs work. These include the following:

  • esophagus
  • stomach
  • intestine
  • colon
  • rectum
  • pancreas
  • gallbladder
  • bile duct
  • liver

These specialists have extensive training in identifying the cause of disease, differential diagnosis, and appropriate treatment. However, they do not perform surgery.

They can help to diagnose the following conditions:

Colorectal surgeons may work closely with gastroenterologists to provide overall care for the digestive system.

Learn more about gastroenterologists.

A colorectal surgeon is a medical professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions that affect the colorectal system. This can include the small intestine, colon, anus, perianal area, and rectum.

A doctor may refer a person to a colorectal surgeon to help diagnose and treat conditions, such as hemorrhoids, fissures, abscesses, polyps, cancer, and more.

To qualify as a colorectal surgeon, a person must graduate from medical school and complete training on general surgery and colon and rectal surgery. Additionally, they must pass written and oral examinations.