Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center experts offer comprehensive care for rectal cancer, including advanced treatments and new options available only through clinical studies.
There are many similarities between rectal cancer and colon cancer, but there are some differences in the ways they are usually treated. 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.
A diagnosis of cancer can feel overwhelming. We have an experienced, compassionate team ready to help. Our goal is to see you within one week so you can start your treatment quickly.
We have surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and pathologists who specialize in colorectal cancer; the most advanced diagnostic, treatment and recovery programs; and extensive support.
Fred Hutch patients have access to innovative options, such as transanal, laparoscopic and robot-assisted surgery, as well as advanced therapies being explored in clinical studies for rectal cancer conducted here and at UW Medicine.
We view treatment as a collaborative effort. Your Fred Hutch Physicians 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.
Your personal team includes more than your rectal cancer doctors. Additional experts who specialize in treating people with cancer will be involved if you need them — experts like a geneticist, genetic counselor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, social worker or palliative care professional.
During and after treatment, your team continues to provide follow-up care on a schedule tailored to you. The Fred Hutch Survivorship Clinic is also here to help you live your healthiest life as a rectal cancer survivor.
Learn more about the Survivor Clinic
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 Fred Hutch.
People with rectal cancer often have radiation therapy along with chemotherapy to shrink their tumor before surgery. This makes the tumor easier to remove from the small space in and around the rectum, and it decreases the chance that the cancer will return.
If your cancer has spread to other parts of your body, radiation therapy may also be helpful for treating those specific spots.
External-beam radiation therapy (EBRT) aims high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation at your body to kill cancer cells. Three main types are used for rectal cancer: intensity-modulated radiation therapy, proton therapy and intraoperative radiation therapy.
For rectal cancer, physicians most often use IMRT.
Learn more in about Radiation Oncology
Proton therapy is a unique form of EBRT that targets protons at tumors to kill cancer cells.
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center - Proton Therapy is the only proton facility in the Pacific Northwest.
Learn more about Proton Therapy
Your Fred Hutch team may recommend IORT if:
IORT is a fast and effective form of radiation therapy that uses electron-beam radiation during surgery.
University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC) is the only hospital in the WAMI region (Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) to offer this treatment.
Your physicians may recommend chemotherapy:
Usually chemotherapy medicines are given by infusion into a vein. Some are taken by mouth in pill form.
Your Fred Hutch 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 Fred Hutch.
Learn more about Chemotherapy
Most people with rectal cancer have surgery to remove their cancer. Often they have several weeks of radiation therapy and chemotherapy first, which improves disease control.
As a Fred Hutch 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 and location of your cancer as well as your overall health, weight, height and preferences. You and your team will discuss your options and decide together what is best for you.
If your cancer was found at a very early stage, it may have been removed at the time of your colonoscopy (polypectomy).
Most people need surgery to remove the cancerous segment of the rectum (proctectomy with total mesorectal excision).
After the cancerous segment of your rectum is removed, your surgeon may also perform an anastomosis or a colostomy.
An anastomosis is a procedure where a surgeon sews or staples the healthy parts of your intestine together so stool can move out of your body.
It may take several operations to achieve this end result. During the process, you may temporarily need an ileostomy.
Sometimes in order to completely remove the cancer, surgeons cannot save the anal sphincters so they need to perform a colostomy.
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.
During surgery to treat rectal cancer, some patients need reconstruction of the pelvis or perineum. The type of reconstruction depends on the exact surgery being done for the cancer. If needed, our skilled reconstruction team does procedures to cover and close the perineal area or place tissue in the pelvis. This is done using tissue from another area of your body (flap reconstruction), typically the abdomen or thigh. Our colorectal and reconstructive surgeons often work together to do both resection (removal of the cancer) and reconstruction during the same surgery.
Learn more abour Reconstructive Surgery
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:
Learn more about Targeted Therapy
This treatment is for people with rectal cancer that has spread to the abdominal lining (peritoneum). Cancer that has spread here is called peritoneal carcinomatosis, or peritoneal cancer.
CRS-HIPEC may be able to control advanced disease while also giving you good quality of life. It combines two parts in one operation:
Learn more about CRS-HIPEC