When It Comes to Cancer, We Share a Common Interest
Colon Cancer Care at Allegheny Health Network
Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer because it can also affect the rectum, is one of the most common types of cancer in the US – affecting more than 200,000 men and women.
However, thanks to improvements in prevention, early detection and treatment, it’s also one of the most survivable. In fact, more than a million people consider themselves survivors of colon cancer.
Here at the Cancer Institute, your team of renowned cancer doctors includes Dr. James McCormick, who is one of 95 doctors at Allegheny Health Network, representing 31 medical specialties, who were recently recognized by Pittsburgh Magazine and Best Doctors, Inc., for being among the region’s best doctors.
Diagnosing Colon Cancer
Colon cancer starts in the colon or rectum, which are part of the large intestine. The colon’s function is to absorb water and nutrients from food and store waste matter. Colon cancer starts as a polyp, which may form on the inner wall of the colon or rectum.
Although usually found after symptom appear, patients often don’t have any symptoms. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor and get the recommended screening tests. Risk factors may include being overweight, a lack of physical exercise, increased alcohol consumption in men, and a diet high in red and processed meat.
At Allegheny Health Network, our doctors and clinicians use a variety of high-quality imaging and diagnostic resources to screen, prevent and treat Colon cancer.
Our advanced diagnostic tests include:
- Transrectal ultrasound. This test finds abnormalities in the rectum and nearby tissues, including the prostate. Using a probe it sends out high-energy sound waves to form a picture of body tissue.
- Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan). This scan uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan is more detailed than general X-rays and shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This imaging technique uses powerful magnets and radio waves to produce detailed images of organs and structures within your body.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan. This test injects radioactive-tagged glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream so a scanner can take images of your body. Tissues that use the glucose more than most normal tissues (such as tumors) can be detected show up on computer images.
Treating Colon Cancer
After a Colon cancer diagnosis, you and your doctor will develop a treatment plan that’s specific to your unique condition. Treating cancer successfully means getting rid of the cancer or getting it under control and keeping it from growing or spreading to other parts of the body. Because there are many different types of cancer cells, removing or getting rid of those cells can require a combination of treatments, including surgery and radiation therapy or some combination of both.
At Allegheny Health Network, our team of doctors and surgeons, and radiation and medical oncologists ensure that you have access to the highest quality of care available, including every possible treatment, procedure and clinical trial best suited for your situation.
Our extensive treatment options include:
Surgeons at the Cancer Institute utilize the latest techniques and technologies, and are among the most experienced in the country. Their expertise ensures that you receive the most comprehensive treatment plan with the best possible outcome.
Our advanced surgical options include:
- Polypectomy. Using a long, flexible tube with a camera on the end, the doctor guides a tiny, wire loop or scissor-like tool into the colon to remove the polyp.
- Colectomy. This procedure removes the cancerous area of the colon that’s associated with the lymph nodes. Typically, the surgeon then rejoins the parts of the colon.
- Laparoscopic/minimally invasive/robotic surgery. This surgery involves the use of tiny instruments and robotic devices to surgically remove the portion of the colon and/or tissue that contain cancer cells. This highly sophisticated technology allows surgeons to see the targeted anatomy in high magnification, brilliant color and with a natural depth of field, this allowing them to make tiny incisions. Much less invasive than traditional surgery, it reduces recovery time and minimizes residual pain and scarring.
- Endoscopic mucosal resection. This procedure can be used if the cancer is small and only on the surface of your colon. A needle is placed into the colon wall and the surgeon injects a saline solution to form a bubble under the lesion. Using suction, the lesion is removed.
- Transanal endoscopic microsurgery (TEM). A minimally invasive procedure using specially designed microsurgical instruments, this surgery involves the removal of select tumors and cancers through the rectum, eliminating the need for an incision.
- Sphincter-preservation rectal surgery. This advanced reconstructive surgery allows for the removal of tumors without impacting the sphincter, which can avoid the need for a permanent colostomy.
Treatment for your colon cancer may not require surgery. In many cases, radiation therapy is used to shrink and destroy cancer cells. Along with your doctor, you can decide what course of treatment will be most beneficial as it relates to your overall diagnosis.
Here at the Cancer Institute we use state-of-the-art technology, including advanced computer software and imaging, to administer high–dose radiation beams directly to a tumor, minimizing your overall exposure.
As the only radiation oncology network accredited in western Pennsylvania by both the American Society for Radiation Oncology and American College of Radiology, you can feel assured knowing you are receiving the highest quality care available. This accreditation means that the Cancer Institute at Allegheny Health Network meets specific guidelines for patient safety, quality control, and efficiency of equipment.
The Cancer Institute's advanced radiation therapies include:
- Image-guided radiotherapy (IGRT). The procedure uses frequent imaging to delivery precise and accurate radiation therapy. With this technology, physicians can image a tumor immediately before or during radiation treatment, making necessary adjustments as needed for precise tumor targeting and minimal harm to surrounding healthy tissue.
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). This therapy uses sophisticated computer technology to map the precise dimensions and density of cancerous tumors. Afterward, virtual treatment simulations are performed, and with minimal harm to surrounding healthy tissue, the radiation dose's shape and intensity is conformed to the simulation's exact parameters.
- Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy (SBRT). This technique combines the precision of image guidance, the accuracy of IMRT, and motion management (4-D CT and Anzai respiratory gating) to deliver high doses of radiation in less than five treatments. This technique was pioneered at Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute and has dramatically improved our ability to control tumors.
The department of Medical Oncology specializes in diagnosing and caring for patients with a variety of medicines, including chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, adjuvant and neoadjuvant therapy. Medicines are administered by mouth (oral) or by vein (intravenous) depending upon the treatment plan developed by your primary doctor or medical oncologist. Throughout your care, your doctor will coordinate your medication needs and your 24/7 Care Navigator may also be a part of this coordinated care effort.
The Cancer Institute's advanced medical oncology therapies include:
- Chemotherapy. Similar in the same way that antibiotics kill bacteria, chemotherapy kills cancer cells. Because of the potency of these drugs, and their ability to sometimes also damage normal cells, side effects can occur, including hair loss, nausea and lowered blood counts. Fortunately, your body’s normal cells repair themselves much better than cancer cells. Throughout your treatment, we carefully monitor your wellness and determine medication requirements that can reduce side effects and maximize the chemotherapy’s effectiveness.
- Targeted therapy. This therapy is less toxic, and in some cases, more effective than traditional chemotherapy. It works by attacking specific genes within the surrounding blood vessels that help cancer to grow.
- Immunotherapy. This form of biological therapy is designed to help your immune system fight your cancer better. Working to enhance immune system function at the cellular level, immunotherapy utilizes cancer vaccines, genetically engineered human immune stimulatory molecules, and monoclonal antibodies (cloned antibodies from healthy cells used to support the immune system to help it fight cancer).
- Adjuvant therapy. This treatment is given after surgery to reduce the chance of residual microscopic cancer cells remaining in your body. It may include chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
- Neoadjuvant therapy. This treatment is given before surgery and may include chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. It may reduce the amount of tumor remaining at the time of surgery, allowing for a more conservative operation.
As with any cancer therapy or treatment, your medical oncologist or primary care doctor, in conjunction with your 24/7 Care Navigator, will with work with you to determine how best to treat your cancer.