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Colon & Rectal Cancers Diagnosis & Treatment

Colon and rectal cancers often begin as small, noncancerous “polyps” in the large intestine (colon) that can, over time, become cancerous. There may be few or no symptoms. With regular screenings, polyps can be found and treated early, before they turn into cancer.

When colon cancer is suspected, it’s vital to receive a precise diagnosis followed by a targeted treatment plan developed especially for you. At Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, people with colon cancer receive care from a skilled and experienced team that includes gastroenterologists, medical oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, pathologists, radiation oncologists, nutritionists and nurses. Team members work together to personalize your care, from diagnosis through treatment and recovery, taking into account your work and personal life. The team answers questions and provides guidance so that you can make the most informed choices about your care.

Colorectal cancer screening and diagnosis

Receiving an early and thorough screening when colon cancer is suspected may be the best insurance for surviving and thriving. Test results for any suspected cancer need to be interpreted by experienced and knowledgeable medical specialists, the kind found at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health. We screen and treat thousands of people each year for colon and other gastrointestinal cancers. Studies have shown that people who are screened and treated at a high-volume medical center like ours tend to have better outcomes than those at other places.

If cancer is found, a critical component for determining the best approach to treatment is the accurate “staging” of the cancer. Is it early or advanced? Do you need surgery, radiation or chemotherapy? At Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, a combination of endoscopy, MRI, CT and other advanced imaging helps accurately pinpoint the cancer stage to identify the most effective treatment option. In addition, blood and genetic tests can help personalize treatment options that may be unique to each person.

These tests are often done on the same day for a faster diagnosis so that the chosen treatment can begin almost immediately.

Colon and rectal cancer treatment

Virginia Mason Franciscan Health is a leader in state-of-the-art options in endoscopy, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation: 

  • Dedicated colon cancer surgeons: Our surgeons specialize in surgery of the colon and are specially trained in minimally invasive procedures (laparoscopic, robotic, minimally invasive and transanal) that provide you with a quick recovery along with improved bowel function, fecal continence and cure rates. 

  • Internationally recognized gastroenterology department: Our Center for Digestive Health is ranked among the top 5% in the nation for overall gastroenterology services. Sometimes early cancers can be completely removed with advanced colonoscopic techniques by our team of gastroenterologists. People with advanced colon cancer may avoid an emergency colostomy by first having a stent placed. 

  • Medical oncology: Chemotherapy is a standard treatment for locally advanced colorectal cancer, and our program has a subspecialized group of gastrointestinal medical oncologists to offer both standard and clinical trial therapy with chemotherapy and targeted medications. New data has shown that it may be advantageous to give chemotherapy before surgery, so a medical oncology consultation is an important part of multidisciplinary care. Chemotherapy and targeted therapy are standard in treating advanced colorectal cancer. Genetic and biomarker testing are performed on all tumors, and clinical research trials are offered as an important treatment option to all patients. Learn more about available cancer clinical trials.

  • Radiation oncology: Preoperative radiation is an important part of care for rectal cancer and, in some cases, for colon cancer if the tumor is very low. If radiation is recommended, you’ll see a gastrointestinal radiation oncologist. In advanced stages, radiation is used to treat any painful tumors. 

  • High-volume cancer surgeries: Virginia Mason Franciscan Health performs a large number of colon and rectal cancer surgeries and is considered a high-volume hospital. This is important, as many studies have shown improved outcomes and survival for people undergoing surgery in hospitals that perform a high volume of colon cancer surgeries.  

  • Dedicated colon cancer tumor board: We hold regular tumor board meetings on colon cancer in which a multidisciplinary team develops individualized treatment plans for each person. The health care professionals on this team are dedicated not just to the immediate next steps in care, but also to monitoring and survivorship. This means that every person with colon cancer is followed through treatment and beyond to ensure a rapid response should the cancer return or if there are other issues that need attention.

Nationally recognized care

Our program is accredited by the Commission on Cancer (CoC), a program of the American College of Surgeons, and we have the first cancer program in Seattle to receive accreditation from the National Accreditation Program for Rectal Cancer (NAPRC)As an accredited institution, we measure ourselves against the latest treatment standards in order to continuously improve survival and quality of life for people with cancer. Colon and rectal cancer quality metrics at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health exceed national benchmarks determined by the CoC and the National Quality Forum (NQF).

Commission on Cancer National Accreditation Program for Rectal Cancer

Colorectal Cancer Treatment Protocol Performance

Recent data from the National Cancer Database shows that our Colorectal Cancer Program outperforms the national median in adhering to CoC best-practice standards, achieving 100 percent performance in several areas. This means you can expect our services to meet the strict standards of the CoC at a rate that exceeds the national average.

Colorectal cancer clinical trials

For more than 20 years, the goal of our clinical research program has been to provide each of our patients with a research option at every step of their disease, from initial diagnosis to long-term follow-up. Our trials include the use of chemotherapy, radiation and targeted therapies, as well quality of life/symptom management trials. Learn more about our current colon and rectal cancers clinical trials.

Colon and rectal cancers: Wellness and support

Our comprehensive cancer program includes a variety of wellness and support services, including rehabilitation, emotional support, spiritual care and more.

Find a colorectal cancer specialist

If you’ve been recently diagnosed or would like a second opinion, consult with one of our expert cancer specialists.