Our Approach to Colorectal Cancer

Colon cancer and rectal cancer are caused by the same type of cancer cells. That’s why many people refer to them together as “colorectal cancer.” However, the colon and the rectum are very different spaces for cancer cells to grow. Because of this, they require divergent approaches to treatment.

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 these cancers are caught in the 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 ranks us among the top cancer facilities in the nation.

When you come to Siteman, your physicians will develop a personalized 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, ushering in a new era of genomic medicine. Today, we use the information encoded in the genome to better target the molecular structures of colon and rectal tumors.

Read on to learn more about what makes Siteman unique.

Expert physicians and surgeons

At Siteman, your physicians and surgeons will be specialists in the treatment of colon and rectal cancers. This means that they’ve had advanced training in caring for colorectal cancer patients and even study these cancers in the laboratory.

What’s more, when you come to Siteman, you’ll often meet with several colorectal specialists at once. This may include a surgeon, a medical oncologist, and a radiation oncologist, depending on your treatment needs. Our team-based approach to treatment means that our physicians collaborate to find the best solutions for you. It also reduces the number of doctors’ appointments you have to attend.

Leading-edge, minimally invasive surgeries

Washington University colon and rectal surgeons at the Siteman Cancer Center are internationally recognized and treat about 350 new cancer patients a year. They have pioneered “sphincter-sparing” surgical techniques that allow most patients with rectal cancer to be treated successfully without a colostomy. Our surgeons are also leaders in developing minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery techniques that leave the smallest possible scar.

Even colorectal cancer that has spread to other organs can be treated surgically. Special techniques for liver or pelvic surgery are used to achieve the best cure rates possible for these cases.

Innovative radiation therapy

Patients with rectal cancer often receive radiation therapy to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. At Siteman, our radiation oncologists frequently treat rectal cancer with short-course radiation therapy. This condenses radiation treatments into five days instead of the usual six weeks.

In addition, Siteman was the first institution in the world to combine radiation and MRI imaging, a technique known as MR-guided adaptive radiation therapy. This ground-breaking method allows physicians to perform vital imaging before and during the delivery of radiation. This means that they can target the tumor while avoiding other organs and structures nearby.

Genetic counseling and testing

5%-6% of colorectal cancers are caused by inherited genetic disorders, including familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC). Washington University Physicians at Siteman 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 are studies investigating the newest drugs, therapies, and other approaches to treatment. Participating in a clinical trial means that you receive cutting-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 specific 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 understand that excellent cancer care takes a personal touch. Our experienced nurses are specially trained to support cancer patients and will help you cope with your symptoms, treatments, and side effects. We have registered dieticians on staff who can provide guidance about nutrition, suggesting ideas for meals and snacks that will taste good as you move through your treatment plan. In addition, patients and family members who desire 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.