Rectal Cancer Treatment

We know that it is difficult to receive a rectal cancer diagnosis. At Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute, you are surrounded by a compassionate team whose life’s work is helping patients overcome rectal cancer. A group of experts from multiple disciplines will review your case to create a comprehensive course of action.

Our highly experienced staff delivers your treatment, which may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and clinical trials. We also offer robust support services to treat the whole person.

Expert rectal cancer treatment at Allegheny Health Network

Our specialists work with you to determine which course of treatment will be most effective for you. At the Cancer Institute, you will find:

  • Expert team: Our highly skilled surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiologists specialize in rectal cancer. This exclusive focus gives us the experience and expertise necessary to provide you with personalized, effective care.
  • Compassionate advocates: Your Navigation Team is with you every step of the way, helping you schedule your appointments and understand your test results.
  • Affordable treatment: A financial navigator works with you to ensure your high-quality treatment is as economical as possible.
  • An after hours clinic: AHN opened the first extended hours clinic in western Pennsylvania for patients with cancer. If you are experiencing side effects from treatment, call your physician’s office first, then visit our clinic, conveniently located at West Penn Hospital. You get prompt treatment without exposing your immune system to the germs you may encounter at a traditional emergency room. You also typically pay less than you would at the ER. And since our oncology specialists have access to your records, they may even be able to advise you over the phone and save you from making a trip. Find out more about our After Hours Oncology Clinic.
  • Pre-surgery and rehab support: Our pre-surgery center offers nutrition counseling, physical therapy, and educational support to make sure you go into the surgery feeling your best. The team at our comprehensive rehab facility helps you manage any pain after surgery. They also help you adapt to any lifestyle changes, such as using a colostomy bag.

Treatment options for rectal cancer

Our compassionate and skilled team works with you to find the treatment plan that best meets your needs. Surgery is often a key part of treatment. The majority of our surgery options are minimally invasive, which means a more precise procedure, better results, and an easier recovery.

Your physician may suggest chemotherapy or radiation treatments before or after surgery to reduce the chance of cancer cells remaining in your body. As a patient at the Cancer Institute, you also have access to a vast array of clinical trials that are testing the latest approaches to care.

Rectal cancer surgery

All of our rectal cancer surgeons have specialized training in rectal cancer. That means that they have dedicated their careers to the study of GI tumors and are highly experienced at performing rectal surgery. We are committed to preserving as much of the rectum and bowel function as possible. Our advanced surgical options include:

  • Laparoscopic robotic surgery: Using tiny instruments and robotic devices, we surgically remove the cancerous portion of the rectum. Much less invasive than traditional surgery, this procedure reduces recovery time and minimizes pain and scarring.
  • Transanal endoscopic microsurgery (TEMS) and transanal minimally invasive surgery (TAMIS): These minimally invasive procedures use specially designed microsurgical instruments. The surgeon accesses the cancer through the rectum, eliminating the need for an incision.
  • Rectal resection: This procedure removes all or part of the rectum.
  • Sphincter-preservation surgery: This advanced reconstructive surgery allows for the removal of tumors without affecting the sphincter, which can avoid the need for a permanent colostomy bag.
  • Plastic surgery reconstruction: After we remove a large tumor, a plastic surgeon may use muscle or tissue from nearby parts of the body to reconstruct the area.
  • Advanced surgery: Our surgeons are experienced in performing intricate surgeries that involve removing complex tumors and other organs. Our specialists will work to preserve or restore normal function.

Radiation therapy for rectal cancer

If your physician recommended radiation therapy, you may be concerned about the effects of radiation exposure. We take your concerns seriously. We use advanced computer software and imaging to deliver high-dose radiation beams directly to the tumor, minimizing exposure to the healthy tissues.

We are the only radiation oncology network accredited in western Pennsylvania by both the American Society for Radiation Oncology and American College of Radiology. These accreditations mean that the Cancer Institute meets specific guidelines for patient safety, quality control, and efficiency of equipment. You can feel assured knowing you are receiving the highest quality care available.

Our advanced radiation treatments for rectal cancer include:

  • Image-guided radiotherapy (IGRT): Physicians can see an image of the tumor immediately before or during radiation treatment. They can change the beam as necessary for precise targeting.
  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT): This therapy uses sophisticated computer technology to map the precise shape of a tumor so other healthy tissues are not harmed.
  • Stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT): This advanced technique was pioneered at AHN and has dramatically improved our ability to control tumors. It delivers high doses of radiation in as few as five treatments.

Medical oncology for rectal cancer

Our highly trained medical oncologists choose specific medications depending on the results of surgery. We may give the drugs before surgery to shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove or after the surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. Our advanced medical oncology therapies include:

  • Chemotherapy: These are medications that slow the growth of cancer. Because these aggressive drugs can also affect healthy cells, you may experience side effects, such as hair loss, nausea, and lowered blood counts, which may lead to infection. Our team monitors you to ease any side effects and to ensure the drugs are as effective as possible.
  • Targeted therapy: These drugs specifically target the genes and protein changes in cancer cells to stop the cells from growing and spreading. They often have less severe side effects than chemotherapy.
  • Immunotherapy: Another type of drug treatment, immunotherapy prompts the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer.

Rehabilitation after rectal cancer treatment

The Cancer Institute offers a comprehensive accelerated recovery program. We will help you manage any pain post-surgery at one of our 10 convenient rehab centers.

We also offer specialized oncology rehab services in your own home, if needed, through our Healthcare @ Home service. If you need a colostomy bag, we will help you adapt to the lifestyle change and return to a full, active life. Learn more about our rehabilitation program.

The team assisting your rehabilitation includes:

  • Anesthesiologists
  • Pain management specialists
  • Infection control specialists
  • Physical therapists
  • Nutritionists
  • Ostomy nurses

Contact us

Call the AHN Cancer Help Line anytime at (412) NURSE-4-U (412) 687-7348 to schedule a cancer-related appointment or to just talk with our nurses about diagnoses, treatments, and side effects.