Our Approach to Colorectal Cancer

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

At Siteman Cancer Center, we have a multidisciplinary team of 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.

The Siteman difference

The Siteman Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Missouri. U.S. News and World Report continues to rank us among the top cancer centers in the nation.

At Siteman, your doctors will develop a treatment plan for you based, in part, on your genome. Our physicians and researchers were the first in the world to sequence the DNA of a cancer patient. Today, we use genomic data to better target the structures of colon and rectal tumors.

Read on to learn more about what makes Siteman unique.

Expert physicians and surgeons

Our experts have advanced training in caring for colorectal cancer patients and even study these cancers in the lab.

As a patient at Siteman, you’ll often meet with several colorectal specialists at once. Based on your treatment needs, this may include a surgeon, a medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist. Our team-based approach means that our physicians work together to find the best treatment plan for you. It also reduces the number of doctors’ visits you’ll have to attend.

Leading-edge, minimally invasive surgeries

Washington University colon and rectal surgeons are internationally renowned, treating about 350 new cancer patients a year. They have pioneered “sphincter-sparing” surgical techniques that allow most patients with rectal cancer to be treated without a colostomy. Our surgeons are also leaders in developing keyhole surgery techniques that leave the smallest possible scar.

Even colorectal cancer that has spread to other parts of the body can be treated surgically. 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. At Siteman, our radiation oncologists often treat rectal cancer with short-course radiation therapy. This reduces radiation treatment time to five days, instead of the usual six weeks.

Siteman was the first center in the world to combine radiation and MRI imaging, called MR-guided adaptive radiation therapy. This novel method allows doctors to perform vital imaging before and during radiation. This means they can target the tumor while sparing other organs and nearby structures.

Genetic counseling and testing

Five to six percent of colorectal cancers are caused by inherited genetic disorders. These disorders include familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC). Our experts use genetic testing to identify patients with these conditions. In doing so, they can better help their patients and alert other family members who may be at risk.

Clinical trials

Many colorectal cancer patients at Siteman receive treatment through clinical trials. These studies investigate novel drugs and therapies. Taking part in a clinical trial means that you receive leading-edge care that is not available in community hospital settings.

Clinical trials for colorectal cancer at Siteman have yielded many promising results. Some of our ongoing trials are examining new approaches for tumors with certain genetic mutations. Others are exploring different therapies for cancer treatment side effects.  At this time, there are over 100 open trials for colorectal cancer at our facility.

Personal support

At Siteman, we believe that excellent 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 ideas for meals and snacks that will taste good as you move through treatment.

Patients and family members seeking mental health care can receive free treatment from our team of skilled cancer psychologists.

As a unique feature of your care, we offer the services of a palliative care specialist. This specialist can help you manage pain and other side effects of your treatments.