The Conditions That Colorectal Surgeons Treat

Surgeons working
Tim Pannell/Corbis/VCG / Getty Images

A colorectal surgeon has a particular interest in diseases of the colon and rectum. To become proficient in the treatment and management of these digestive conditions, a colorectal surgeon must undergo training in both general surgeries as well as advanced training in the problems of the lower digestive tract. A colorectal surgeon might also sometimes be called a proctologist.

People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may see a colorectal surgeon from time to time. One reason for this is if a gastroenterologist calls for a surgical consult: this could be to determine if the Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis are at a point where the disease would be better managed through surgery. After surgery, people with IBD may keep in contact with the colorectal surgeon for some time, especially if the surgery was for ostomy or j-pouch surgery.

A colorectal surgeon may not always advise that surgery is the best course of action. Sometimes a surgeon is consulted to give a patient and their family more options or to help determine if it might be better to wait for surgery. If you are sent by a gastroenterologist to talk to a colorectal surgeon, it doesn't always mean that you are headed for surgery.

Training for a Colorectal Surgeon

A general surgery residency program generally includes 5 to 6 years of training after the completion of a four-year medical school program. Specialized programs that a general surgeon must undergo to become a colon and rectal surgeon generally take one to two more years. In all, a colorectal surgeon has undergone a minimum of 14 years of formal classroom education and practical training before becoming licensed to practice medicine as a colorectal surgeon.

Do You Call the Colorectal Surgeon or the Gastroenterologist?

People with IBD may, at times, be unsure which specialist to call for advice or direction about their disease. If the problem has to do with recent surgery, the colorectal surgeon may be the better specialist to call. This is especially true if a surgical site is not healing the way it should, or if there is an unexpected pain.

For questions about regular medications, or a new problem that might be related to IBD (such as pains in the joints, skin problems, or eye problems), the gastroenterologist would be the specialist to contact. 

When it comes time to have a colonoscopy or other endoscopic procedure, either a colorectal surgeon or a gastroenterologist may be able to complete the test. Which doctor completes the test will be based on that particular physician's expertise and their knowledge of your particular disease and medical history, as well as availability and insurance considerations.

Another point to consider is the relationship a patient has with each physician and with whom it is easier to receive the care that's needed.

Conditions Colorectal Surgeons Treat

A colorectal surgeon that is certified by the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery must have proficiency in diagnosing and treating the following conditions.

Anorectal conditions:

Endoscopy of the colon and rectum:

Intestinal and anorectal physiology for management of:

A colorectal surgeon may also perform regular screening exams, such as sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, for colorectal cancer and other digestive disorders.

Some colorectal surgeons will have specialized knowledge of patients with IBD and have more experience with common IBD surgeries such as resections, ostomies, j-pouches, and strictureplasty. 

Locate a Colorectal Surgeon

Finding a colorectal surgeon can be tricky in some areas of the country. You can use the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons and Canadian Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons resources to help find a specialist physician that is working in your area

Was this page helpful?