Overview

Multidisciplinary care for the treatment of colorectal cancers

Colorectal cancer is more common than many people realize. In fact, according to the Colon Cancer Alliance, it is the third most common cancer found in men and women in the U.S. (excluding skin cancers), and the third leading cause of cancer-related mortalities. Fortunately, due to awareness of the disease, earlier screenings and improved treatments in the last 15 years, the death rate and the number of cases of colorectal cancer have actually decreased.

Finding colorectal cancer before symptoms develop can dramatically improve the chance of survival. In fact, colorectal cancer is 80 percent preventable when detected early. Both men and women can develop colorectal cancer and can reduce their risk by regular screenings after the age of 50.

If you or a family member receives a cancer diagnosis, Overlake is here to provide you with expert and compassionate care. We're equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic capabilities, leading-edge treatments and a skilled, multidisciplinary staff, which includes a patient navigator who is available to provide guidance to patients and their families throughout the treatment process. Our Cancer Resource Center offers a wealth of resources and information for patients and their families.

Screening + Diagnosis

What you need to know

Beginning at age 50, the American Cancer Society recommends men and women have a colon screening. The recommended frequency of subsequent screenings is dependent upon findings and continued assessment of the risk.

Those with any significant risk -- such as a family history of colorectal cancer -- should ask their physician when and how often to receive colon cancer screenings.

Risk factors for colorectal cancer:
  • Age (more than 90 percent of those with colorectal cancer are over age 50)
  • Having had polyps or colorectal cancer previously
  • A history of bowel disease and family history of colorectal cancer
Risk factors related to lifestyle:
  • Being overweight
  • Lack of exercise
  • Long-time smoking
  • Heavy use of alcohol
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Diets high in red and processed meats
Signs + symptoms:
  • Changes in bowel habits (out of the ordinary diarrhea, constipation, narrowing of the stool)
  • Having the urge to have a bowel movement even after doing so
  • Dark or bloody stools
  • Stomach pain or cramps

Many times these symptoms are not colorectal cancer, but it’s important to visit your physician to rule it out and find the cause.

Screening Techniques

The American Cancer Society recommends the following screening protocol for those at normal risk and over 50 years of age:

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, or
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years, or
  • Double-contrast barium enema every five years or
  • Virtual Colonography every five years 

Diagnosis

Overlake uses leading-edge diagnostics, employing sophisticated imaging techniques to detect cancer at its earliest possible stage. If your screening results suggest cancer, your doctor will refer you for follow-up testing, Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) in combination with PET/CT* scanning, for instance, is one of the latest diagnostic tools used to detect and stage gastrointestinal and lung cancers. Using EUS, our physicians can explore the cancer’s exact location, determine the extent of the cancer and assess if the cancer has spread.

*provided by Washington Imaging Services

Treatment

State-of-the-art treatment options at Overlake

Overlake strives to provide the most up-to-date and technologically advanced methods in the treatment of cancer.

Patients consult with their doctor(s) to choose a cancer treatment regimen based on a number of factors such as overall health, the type and stage of the cancer, and the patient’s personal preferences. Options typically involve one or more, or a combination of treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Surgery

For patients who need hospitalization, the Cancer Center at Overlake has a designated inpatient medical oncology unit, the Lang Oncology Unit, offering a relaxed, comfortable, home-like environment. The unit is staffed by specially trained oncology nurses who are experienced in treating the special needs of cancer patients. In addition, oncologic surgery patients are cared for by specially trained surgical nurses on the surgical unit.

The waiting room in the Lang Oncology Unit is a peaceful retreat for patients and their families. This room can be used by patients as a quiet space away from patient rooms to relax, reflect or consult privately with physicians.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer medications, or vaccine-types of agents to disrupt cancer cells from growing and multiplying. Chemotherapy is an agent that enters the system orally in the form of a tablet, intramuscularly or intravenously through the insertion of a needle into a vein or a catheter. The underlying aim is to arrest the growth of the cancer cells. The medications seek out and destroy cancer cells in different parts of the body. Chemotherapy agents can reach cancers that cannot be reached by surgery or radiation. Occasionally chemotherapy is given prior to surgery to decrease the size of a large tumor to obtain better surgical results.

Factors such as the type of cancer and the stage of the disease are used to determine how and when chemotherapy agents should be given. Depending on these factors, your medication may be given either intravenously, intramuscularly or orally, and the frequency can range from daily, to weekly or monthly.

Side Effects

Chemotherapy is targeted toward destruction of cancer cells, but it also affects other rapidly growing cells, including hair cells and cells that line the digestive tract. As a result, you may experience hair loss, nausea and vomiting. Most chemotherapy drugs also affect bone marrow, decreasing its ability to produce blood cells. Therefore, you may have a higher risk of infection, due to a decrease in white blood cells, or less energy due to a decrease in red blood cells. The type and degree of side effects depend on the drugs taken, the dosage of those medications, your age, general health and other factors. Be sure to speak with your physician about possible side effects and symptom management, which is readily available.

Radiation Therapy

One of the most common treatments in cancer, radiation therapy is used in more than half of all cancer cases. It is the primary treatment for many kinds of cancer and, for many patients, the only treatment needed beyond surgery.

The type of radiation and the length of treatment vary according to the type of tumor, location of the cancer, your overall health and the stage of your disease.

Overlake Radiation Oncology has state-of-the art equipment, such as dual energy linear accelerators with electron beam capabilities, providing you with the most recent advances in radiation therapy.

Radiation is a beam of electromagnetic energy that is directed at the affected tissue, causing damage to the chromosomes of the cancer cells. When the cancer cells are damaged, they are not able to divide and grow. Radiation is often used in combination with other treatments like chemotherapy and surgery. Depending on the type of tumor and the location, radiation may be used as the primary, secondary or supplementary method of treatment. Since radiation stops cancer from growing, it may also be used to relieve pain and other symptoms, or to reduce the size of a tumor before surgery.

Side Effects

Depending on the area being treated with radiation therapy, you can have side effects that, though unpleasant, are not permanent. The most common are:

  • Unusual tiredness
  • Skin reactions (such as rash or red areas)
  • Hair loss
  • A decrease in the number of white blood cells

Learn more about the Overlake Radiation Oncology Clinic

Clinical Trials

Overlake Medical Center is home to a number of clinical trials in collaboration with other first-rate institutions such as the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Many of today's most effective treatments in healthcare are based on previous study results. Because of progress made through clinical trials, many people are living longer.

Trials are designed to help determine the safety and effectiveness of new treatments, and represent new possibilities for patients facing a medical illness. Other studies are designed to improve comfort and quality-of-life for people who have been diagnosed with a disease such as cancer, heart disease or diabetes. These types of trials may study the impact of treatment or services on patients, their family members, or the healthcare providers caring for these individuals.

Learn more

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is a group of diverse medical and healthcare systems, practices and products that are not presently considered part of conventional medicine. CAM includes such products and practices as herbal supplements, meditation, chiropractic manipulation and acupuncture.

Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine. An example of a complementary therapy is using aromatherapy to help lessen a patient's discomfort following surgery.

Learn more

Colorectal Cancer Support + Resources

Support and wellness services for you and your family 

At the Cancer Center at Overlake, we understand being diagnosed and going through treatment for cancer is a difficult and challenging process. Our patient navigator is available to assist patients and their families, friends and caregivers throughout their care. We also offer support from diagnosis to recovery through the Cancer Resource Center, located on the Overlake campus.

The Cancer Resource Center offers information on all cancer types. A counselor is available by appointment. All services and resources in the Cancer Resource Center are free of charge. Available resources include:

  • Lending library
  • Support groups
  • Informational brochures
  • Wigs and soft chemo-hats

Contact our oncology social workers/patient navigators: Oncologysocialworker@overlakehospital.org

American Cancer Society

Phone: 800.ACS.2345

One of the primary goals of the American Cancer Society is to provide the most accurate-up-to-date cancer information. Patients receive help with making treatment decisions, understanding the effects of treatment, meeting other survivors, and finding or offering support on the Cancer Survivor network. Services are free of charge.

Colon Cancer Alliance

The Colon Cancer Alliance is the nation’s leading colorectal cancer organization, focused on meeting individual patient and caregiver needs by connecting each of those diagnosed with a support network through its Online Colorectal Cancer Community.

Cancer Lifeline

Phone: 206.297.2500

Phone: 800.255.5505

Cancer Lifeline provides emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They provide an array of services to cancer patients and survivors, their family members, caregivers and friends. Services are free of charge.

National Cancer Institute (NCI)

Phone: 800.4.Cancer

The National Cancer Institute provides the latest and most accurate information on cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing research. Information is available via free printed materials and information specialists can answer questions about cancer over the phone. Services are free of charge.

Team Survivor NW

Phone: 206.732.8350  

“Get fit for the health of it.” Team Survivor NW has developed a variety of fitness and health education programs to help cancer patients and survivors get active, fit and focused on their health both now and in the future. Services are free of charge.

Colorectal Cancer Procedures

Learn about common colorectal cancer procedures performed at Overlake Medical Center.

Virtual Colonography

Virtual Colonography is performed utilizing a CT scanner. It is a noninvasive, sophisticated, medical test that utilizes computers to produce multiple images or pictures of the inside of the body.

CT Colonography uses CT scanning to obtain both an interior and exterior view of the colon, which can be viewed on a computer from multiple angles. The entire exam is usually completed within 30 minutes. No IV or sedation is used for this exam. 

Endoscopic Ultrasound

Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) is a diagnostic tool used to evaluate lung and gastrointestinal cancers. Combined with PET/CT scanning, it provides high-resolution images so physicians can confirm the stage of the cancer, explore its exact location, determine the depth of a tumor in the wall of the colon, assess if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or organs, and determine the optimal course of treatment. Highly trained gastroenterologists perform these procedures.

EUS involves the use of a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope to examine patients. Within the endoscope is an ultrasound transducer, which produces sound waves to create images of the colon. With these detailed images, the extent of the cancer is determined.

EUS can also guide fine-needle biopsies and is a minimally-invasive alternative to surgery when combined with a biopsy.

Overlake Cancer Center

Caring for the whole person + treating all cancers >

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