Colorectal cancer is one of the most common – and treatable – forms of cancer, especially when caught early. In fact, thanks to improvements in prevention, early detection and treatment, over a million people in the U.S. are survivors of colorectal cancer.
The earlier we find these cancers, the better your chances of successful treatment. You can trust us for education, early detection and screening, what to expect and next steps after a diagnosis.
Early developing colorectal cancer doesn’t cause many noticeable symptoms. It’s usually discovered during recommended colonoscopy screenings done as part of preventive care. If your doctor finds something suspicious during this screening, or if you have symptoms of colorectal cancer, such as a rectal bleeding, blood in your stool, cramping / abdominal pain or severe fatigue and weakness, your doctor will recommend tests to find the cause.
You’ll usually be referred to our advanced imaging services and may need blood tests, an endorectal ultrasound or a biopsy. A pathologist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing disease, will look at your cell samples to identify the presence of cancer and determine its type and whether it’s noninvasive or invasive.
In some instances, genetic testing may be offered.
Innovative techniques and technologies
We target colorectal cancers with some of the most advanced treatments and technology available. In the hands of our experts, tools such as these can lead to optimal results and improved survival rates. Throughout our system, our advanced offerings include:
- da Vinci® robot – A robotic surgical system designed to facilitate complex surgery using a minimally invasive approach. This system enables surgeons to make smaller, more precise movements with tiny instruments inside your body, which can help you heal more quickly.
- TrueBeam™– A medical device that delivers a radiation beam to target cancer while exposing healthy cells to minimal radiation. No incisions are made; the noninvasive device rotates around the patient, delivering the radiation dose from different angles.
You will need to call your local hospital to learn which of these options are available in your area.
Your case is unique, which means your treatment plan will be designed around your needs. Every week, a team of specialists meets to discuss cancer cases and collaborate on the best treatment for each patient. You benefit from the combined expertise of specialists in radiology, surgery, pathology, pharmacology, oncology and therapists in fields like physical therapy and psychology.
Your recommended treatment will be based on best practices that have worked for other patients, specific aspects of your cancer/tumor, the results of all your tests, the stage of your cancer and your personal preferences.
Colorectal cancer is almost always treated through surgery to remove the tumor. When cancer is caught early, and treatment is begun immediately, surgery can often cure colorectal cancer. If the cancer has spread, radiation and chemotherapy / infusion therapies are used to supplement your treatment plan.
Surgery is the most common way to treat colorectal cancer. Procedures include:
- Abdomino-perineal resection - Complete removal of the rectum and anus, necessitating a permanent end colostomy
- Colectomy - Part of the colon and lymph nodes near the cancer are removed
- Polypectomy - Only polyps inside the large intestine are removed, leaving the large intestine intact
- Proctectomy - Complete removal of the rectum
- Transanal excision - Surgical removal of tumors through the anus
Your doctor may also do surgery to see if cancer has spread to any area of your lymph node system, which may require other types of treatment after surgery.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill or shrink cancer cells. Your doctor may use internal or external radiation, or both, to treat your cancer. This treatment can be used to shrink a tumor before surgery. Or it may be used after surgery to kill cancer cells that remain in the colorectal system, which encompasses the urinary organs.
Chemotherapy uses powerful medicines, either given through a vein or taken as pills, to kill cancer cells all through the body. Chemo is given in rounds, followed by a break; treatment can last for months. Chemo may be used to shrink a tumor before surgery or to kill any cancer cells that remain after local treatments. It may also treat tumors that have grown in other places in the body. Cancers that have spread are usually treated with chemotherapy.
Targeted therapy drugs target the changes in cells that cause cancer cells to form. These drugs affect the cancer cells in your body and leave your normal cells alone. The goal is to prevent the cancer from growing.
This treatment course sometimes works when standard chemotherapy drugs don’t, and they often have different (and less severe) side effects. In some cases, targeted drugs are given in combination with chemotherapy medicines. The two drugs work in combination to allow chemo drugs easier access to the tumor, making chemotherapy more effective overall.
Tumor ablation treatment destroys a tumor without surgically removing it from the body. This is often the medical recommendation when you’re too sick to have surgery. Ablation techniques include heating the tumor with radio waves (known as RFA), freezing the tumor (known as cryoablation), or killing the tumor by blocking certain blood vessels and cutting off the blood supply that feeds the large intestine.
You should always talk to your doctor about your specific treatment plan and what you can expect.
Your care team
Our colorectal cancer specialists know that great care is the result of seamless communication between you, your family and your existing healthcare providers. When you have this kind of collaboration, you can expect a more efficient, effective and tailored approach to your individual cancer care and unique needs.
Life beyond colorectal cancer
With earlier detection, more patients are surviving colorectal cancer than ever before. Our survivorship program gives you access to specialists who partner with you for your post-treatment. This program focuses on nutritional goals, healthy living and emotional well-being. We’ll also help you set up regular medical checkups with your primary doctor to prevent, detect and manage any complications related to your cancer or cancer treatment. Because you may be at higher risk for second cancers, screening and surveillance are essential to your long-term health.
Talk with your doctor about developing a survivorship care plan. This document will summarize the cancer treatment you received and outline the medical guidance you’ll need as you transition to living beyond cancer.