Rachel Issaka, MD, MAS

Physician
Fred Hutch
Assistant Professor, Division of Gastroenterology & Hepatology
University of Washington School of Medicine
Physician
UW Medicine
Assistant Member, Clinical Research Division
Fred Hutch
Assistant Member, Clinical Research Division
Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research
Specialty:
Gastroenterology
“My approach to care is based on meeting patients where they are — understanding what each person needs at that moment in time and what obstacles they face, and then finding the resources and tools to help them achieve their health goals. I want patients to walk away from our consultations feeling empowered to handle any gastrointestinal challenge.”
— Dr. Issaka
What experiences have informed your clinical research and approach to care?

During my medical residency, I provided care at two clinics in Chicago. One was in downtown, and the other was on the South Side. My patients in the downtown clinic, who were mostly white, would almost always accept my offer to complete colorectal cancer screening, while my patients on the South Side, who were mostly Black and Latino, were much more hesitant about completing screening. I wondered why there was such a difference in responses to a potentially lifesaving test. I would come to learn about the multiple barriers many racial and ethnic minorities and low-income individuals face in accessing colon cancer screenings: a lack of referral, transportation and care coordination, to name just a few. That experience inspired my current clinical research in colon cancer and has also influenced the way I practice medicine. My approach to care is based on meeting patients where they are — understanding what each person needs at that moment in time and what obstacles they face, and then finding the resources and tools to help them achieve their health goals. I want patients to walk away from our consultations feeling empowered to handle any gastrointestinal challenge.

Gastrointestinal Refers to the stomach and intestines. Also called GI. Screening Checking for disease when there are no symptoms. Because screening may find diseases at an early stage, there may be a better chance of curing the disease Checking for disease when there are no symptoms. Because screening may find diseases at an early stage, there may be a better chance of curing the disease. Examples of cancer screening tests are the mammogram (for breast cancer), colonoscopy (for colon cancer) and Pap and HPV tests (for cervical cancer). Screening can also include a genetic test to check for a person’s risk of developing an inherited disease.
Rachel Issaka, MD
Tell us about an interaction with a patient that has had a significant impact on you.

I was a member of the care team for a patient who was experiencing symptoms consistent with colon cancer. I performed his colonoscopy and unfortunately found a tumor. Our pathologists quickly confirmed the diagnosis of cancer, and our radiologists were able to complete his scans a few days later, which showed the cancer had not spread outside of his colon. Within the same week, he was able to meet the surgeon, who ultimately removed the cancer. A week later, he was thrilled to be discharged from the hospital. Not every situation turns out this way, but the reason we were able to coordinate his care so rapidly was because of the multidisciplinary nature of SCCA. Sharing space with a variety of cancer care experts facilitates collaboration and ultimately improves our patients’ experiences and outcomes. 

Colonoscopy An examination of the inside of the colon using a colonoscope, which is inserted into the rectum. A colonoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. An examination of the inside of the colon using a colonoscope, which is inserted into the rectum. A colonoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue to be checked under a microscope for signs of disease. Pathologist A physician who has special training in identifying diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope. Radiologist A physician who has special training in creating and interpreting pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are made with X-rays, sound waves or other types of energy. Symptom A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests. A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests. Some examples of symptoms are headache, fatigue, nausea and pain.

Provider background

Specialty: Gastroenterology

Gastrointestinal (GI) cancers, GI problems associated with cancer and cancer treatment

I am a board-certified gastroenterologist who specializes in the digestive issues associated with cancer or cancer treatment. These issues include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and more. I provide care for patients with all types of cancers in order to improve their quality of life during and after cancer treatment.

My clinical research spans the full colorectal cancer care continuum, from prevention to diagnosis to surveillance. At the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, I lead a lab that studies how to improve colorectal cancer outcomes through interventions that increase screening participation and follow-up of abnormal stool-based screening tests. Our mission is to decrease the mortality of this disease, especially in racial and ethnic minorities and other medically underserved populations.

Gastroenterologist Gastroenterologists are trained to diagnose and treat diseases of the gastrointestinal system, including cancers of the liver, pancreas, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum and anus. Gastrointestinal Refers to the stomach and intestines. Also called GI. Screening Checking for disease when there are no symptoms. Because screening may find diseases at an early stage, there may be a better chance of curing the disease Checking for disease when there are no symptoms. Because screening may find diseases at an early stage, there may be a better chance of curing the disease. Examples of cancer screening tests are the mammogram (for breast cancer), colonoscopy (for colon cancer) and Pap and HPV tests (for cervical cancer). Screening can also include a genetic test to check for a person’s risk of developing an inherited disease. Surveillance Closely watching a patient’s condition but not treating it unless there are changes in test results. Surveillance is also used to find early signs that a disease has come back. In medicine, surveillance means closely watching a patient’s condition but not treating it unless there are changes in test results. Surveillance is also used to find early signs that a disease has come back. It may also be used for a person who has an increased risk of a disease, such as cancer. During surveillance, certain exams and tests are done on a regular schedule. In public health, surveillance may also refer to the ongoing collection of information about a disease, such as cancer, in a certain group of people. The information collected may include where the disease occurs in a population and whether it affects people of a certain gender, age or ethnic group.

Diseases treated

Education, experience and certifications
Medical Degree
University of Michigan
Residency
McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University, Internal Medicine
Fellowship
University of California, San Francisco, Gastroentereology & Hepatology
Board Certification
Gastroenterology, 2017; Internal Medicine, 2013, American Board of Internal Medicine
Other
Master of Advanced Studies in Clinical Research, University of California, San Francisco

Research

Clinical trials

We make promising new treatments available to you through studies called clinical trials led by Fred Hutch doctors. Many of these trials at Fred Hutch have led to FDA-approved treatments and have improved standards of care globally. Together, you and your doctor can decide if a study is right for you.

Publications

Many of our Fred Hutch doctors conduct ongoing research to improve standards of patient care. Their work is evaluated by other doctors and selected for publication to the United States National Library of Medicine, the largest medical library in the world. See scientific papers this Fred Hutch provider has written.

Press

Our providers are often asked to give their medical expertise for press and news publications. Read articles by or about this Fred Hutch provider.

Which Colon Cancer Screening Is Best?

SCCA's Rachel Issaka, MD, was featured in a recent U.S. News and World Report article about colon cancer screening.

8 Options for Colon Cancer Screening

SCCA's Rachel Issaka, MD, was quoted in a HealthCentral story about colonoscopies as an option for colon cancer screening. 

Your care team

At Fred Hutch, you receive care from a team of providers with extensive experience in your disease. Your team includes doctors, a patient care coordinator, a registered nurse, an advanced practice provider and others, based on your needs. You also have access to experts like nutritionists, social workers, acupuncturists, psychiatrists and more who specialize in supporting people with cancer or blood disorders.
Registered nurse (RN)
Registered nurse (RN)
Your nurse manages your care alongside your doctor and assists with care procedures and treatments.
Patient care coordinator
Patient care coordinator
Your patient care coordinator works closely with you and your doctor and serves as your scheduler.

Insurance

Fred Hutch accepts most national private health insurance plans as well as Medicare. We also accept Medicaid for people from Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. We are working to ensure that everyone, no matter what their financial situation, has access to the care they need.

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