Colon cancer

Treatment

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) experts offer comprehensive care for colon cancer, including advanced treatments and new options available only through clinical studies.

Many patients are seen at our Colorectal Cancer Specialty Clinic. At this clinic, all of the specialists who will be involved in your care will meet to design treatment that’s tailored to you. You will receive a multidisciplinary treatment plan in a single day — truly one-stop shopping.

Our goal is to see you within one week so you can start your treatment quickly.

A diagnosis of cancer can feel overwhelming. We have an experienced, compassionate team ready to help. 

There are many similarities between colon cancer and rectal cancer, but there are some differences in the ways they are usually treated. Learn about rectal cancer treatment.

Colon cancer expertise at SCCA

Colon cancer survival rates

Data collected from cancer centers across the country show that people who begin their colon cancer treatment at SCCA have higher survival rates on average than those who started treatment at other centers.

Everything you need is here

We have surgeons, medical oncologists and pathologists who specialize in colorectal cancer; the most advanced diagnostic, treatment and recovery programs; and extensive support. 

Innovative colon cancer therapies

SCCA patients have access to advanced therapies being explored in clinical studies for colon cancer conducted here and at our founding organizations Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and UW Medicine.

Colon cancer treatment tailored to you

We view treatment as a collaborative effort. Your SCCA doctors will explain all your options and recommend a treatment plan to get you the best results based on the stage, size and location of your cancer and your overall health.

Team-based approach

Your personal team includes more than your colon cancer doctors. Additional experts who specialize in treating people with cancer will be involved if you need them — experts like a geneticist, genetic counselor, dietitian, pharmacist, social worker or palliative care professional.

Learn More About Our Supportive Care Services

Ongoing care and support

During and after treatment, your team continues to provide follow-up care on a schedule tailored to you. The SCCA Survivorship Clinic is also here to help you live your healthiest life as a colon cancer survivor.

Learn More About the SCCA Survivorship Clinic

Treatment types

Treatment looks different for different people depending on your diagnosis. We tailor your treatment plan to you. Learn more about the treatment types offered at SCCA. 

Surgery

Most people with colon cancer begin treatment by having surgery to remove their cancer. If colon cancer has spread (metastasized) to another area, doctors typically start with chemotherapy to treat all sites of disease. After chemo, they may recommend surgery if the metastases have responded and can be surgically removed. 

As an SCCA patient, you’ll have surgery performed by a UW Medicine surgeon specially trained and board certified in colorectal surgery. 

Your exact procedure will depend on factors like the stage of your cancer and your overall health, weight and preferences. You and your team will discuss your options and decide together what is best for you.

Our surgeons use minimally invasive techniques whenever possible and follow evidence-based guidelines to enhance your recovery (“early-recovery after surgery” protocols).

Polypectomy

If your cancer is limited to one or more polyps, it may have been completely removed during your colonoscopy.

Colectomy

If a polypectomy is not enough or is not possible, your surgeon will remove the segment of your colon that contains cancer. 

  • Your surgeon will also check whether cancer has spread to other organs (which will include removing nearby lymph nodes).
  • Whenever possible, we perform colectomies laparoscopically (through small “keyhole” incisions). Smaller incisions typically mean a shorter hospital stay and less need for pain medication. 
  • If laparoscopic surgery isn’t possible, your surgery will be done through a single, longer incision in your abdomen.

Colostomy

Some people need a temporary or permanent colostomy. The surgeon creates an opening (stoma) in your abdomen and attaches the open end of your colon to it on the inside. A bag is attached on the outside to collect waste. 

We can help you learn how to care for your colostomy and adjust so you can go on with normal activities comfortably. We have a specially certified wound ostomy nurse who understands the physical and emotional impact of ostomies and can work closely with you, your family and your doctors. Our survivorship clinic also plays an integral part in your ongoing care.

Surgery

Most people with colon cancer begin treatment by having surgery to remove their cancer. If colon cancer has spread (metastasized) to another area, doctors typically start with chemotherapy to treat all sites of disease. After chemo, they may recommend surgery if the metastases have responded and can be surgically removed. 

Chemotherapy

Your doctors may recommend chemotherapy:

  • After surgery to help prevent your cancer from coming back
  • As your first treatment, instead of surgery, if your cancer has already spread to another area at the time it is diagnosed

Usually chemotherapy medicines are given by infusion into a vein. Some are taken by mouth in pill form. 

Your SCCA team will talk with you about the specific drugs we recommend for you, how you’ll receive them, your treatment schedule and what to expect. We’ll also explain how to take the best possible care of yourself during treatment and after, and we’ll connect you with medical and support resources throughout SCCA.

Chemotherapy

Your doctors may recommend chemotherapy after surgery to help prevent your cancer from coming back or as your first treatment, instead of surgery, if your cancer has already spread to another area at the time it is diagnosed.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapies are newer cancer treatments that work more selectively than standard chemotherapy. They target a gene or protein responsible for allowing cancer to grow, they seek out and damage cancer cells, or they prompt your immune system to attack particular cells (also called immunotherapy). 

Targeted biological therapies use substances, like antibodies, that come from living organisms, or versions of these substances made in a laboratory.

These medicines are important if you have colorectal cancer that has spread to other parts of your body (advanced or metastatic cancer).

Biological therapies for colorectal cancer include: 

  • Bevacizumab (Avastin) — which starves tumors by stopping growth of blood vessels that nourish tumor cells (anti-angiogenesis therapy)
  • Cetuximab (Erbitux) and panitumumab (Vectibix) — which block a normal protein (epidermal growth factor receptor) on the surface of your cells that may contribute to cancer growth (anti-EGFR therapies, or EGFR inhibitors) 
Targeted therapy

Targeted therapies are newer cancer treatments that work more selectively than standard chemotherapy. They target a gene or protein responsible for allowing cancer to grow, they seek out and damage cancer cells, or they prompt your immune system to attack particular cells (also called immunotherapy). 

Treating liver metastases

Over the past decade, amazing advances have been made in treating colon cancers that have spread to the liver. If you have liver metastases, surgeons and interventional radiologists work together at UW Medicine’s Secondary Liver Tumor Clinic to determine which treatment approaches will work best for you. Treatments may include concurrent liver and colon surgeries, external-beam radiation therapy or catheter-based therapies, such as transarterial chemoembolization.