Our Approach to Colorectal Cancer

Colon and rectal cancers both affect the digestive system and the same type of cells cause both cancers. That’s why many people refer to them together as “colorectal cancer.” Most cancers start in the lining of the colon (also known as the bowel or large intestine) or rectum and may affect any part of the colon. But because the colon and rectum are different spaces for cancer to grow, these cancers require different treatment approaches.

At Siteman Cancer Center, we have a multidisciplinary team of Washington University medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and surgeons. Our experts treat colon and rectal cancers with the newest, most advanced techniques. When screening tests catch these cancers in their early stages, most patients can hope to make a full recovery.

Expert physicians and surgeons

Washington University colon and rectal cancer specialists have advanced training in caring for patients with these cancers. Because they have studied these cancers extensively in the lab, our experts are on the leading edge of research in colorectal cancer prevention, diagnosis and care.

Convenient, multidisciplinary care

As a patient at Siteman, you’ll often meet with several colorectal specialists at once, reducing the number of doctors’ visits you’ll have to attend. Based on your treatment needs, this may include a surgeon, a medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist. Our physicians come from a wide range of disciplines, meaning that your tumor will be attacked from all angles.

Leading-edge, minimally invasive surgeries

Our colorectal surgeons are internationally renowned, treating about 350 new cancer patients a year. They have pioneered “sphincter-sparing” techniques that allow most patients with rectal cancer to be treated without a colostomy and maintain normal bowel function. Our experts even use surgery to treat colon cancers and rectal cancers that have spread to other parts of the body. In these cases, special techniques for liver or pelvic surgery are used to achieve the best cure rates possible.

Innovative radiation therapy

Patients with rectal cancer often receive radiation therapy to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Washington University radiation oncologists at Siteman are national leaders at using shorter durations of radiation to achieve the same positive results. This means that our patients often complete their treatments more quickly than patients at other cancer centers.

Genetic counseling and testing

Family cancer syndromes cause up to six percent of colon cancers. These syndromes include familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer, or HNPCC). Our experts use genetic testing to detect these disorders. This can help patients understand their inherited colorectal cancer risk and alert other family members who may be at risk.

The choice to undergo genetic testing is one you should make only after speaking with your doctor about the risks and benefits.

Clinical trials

As the only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Missouri, Siteman offers groundbreaking clinical trials that aren’t available at other centers, giving our patients access to the most advanced therapies being developed. Many colorectal cancer patients at Siteman receive treatment through clinical trials.

Clinical trials for colorectal cancer at Siteman have shown a lot of promise. Some of our ongoing trials are looking into new approaches for tumors with certain genetic mutations. Others are studying new therapies for cancer treatment side effects.  At this time, there are over 100 open trials for colorectal cancer at our center.

Personal support

At Siteman, we believe that world-class cancer care takes a personal touch. Our expert nurses are specially trained to help you cope with your symptoms, treatments and side effects. Our registered dietitians can also suggest meals and snacks that will taste good as you move through treatment. We also offer the services of a palliative care specialist to help you manage pain and other treatment side effects.

Patients and family members seeking mental health care can receive free treatment from our team of skilled cancer psychologists. We also offer a number of other support services that may be helpful to you and your loved ones.