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Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the United States — and the second most common cause of cancer deaths among men and women combined. About 100,000 cases of colon cancer, and just under 45,000 cases of rectal cancer, are diagnosed per year.

These cancers develop in the large intestine (colon and rectum), often from growths called polyps. Polyps are found in a third of all people. Initially benign, these growths may transform into cancer. In some cases, these cancers can become advanced or metastatic, breaking away from the large intestine to form new tumors elsewhere in the body. Although it is a very serious disease, colorectal cancer is preventable and can be successfully treated if detected early.
 

Researchers & Patient Treatment

Dr. Rachel Isaaka

Our Colorectal Cancer Researchers

Our interdisciplinary scientists and clinicians work together to prevent, diagnose and treat colorectal cancer as well as other cancers and diseases.

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Patient Treatment & Care

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, our clinical care partner, gives patients access to the comprehensive, world-class treatments developed at Fred Hutch.

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Colon and Rectal Cancer Clinical Trials

Clinical research is an essential part of the scientific process that leads to new treatments and better care. Clinical trials can also be a way for patients to get early access to new cutting-edge
therapies. Our clinical research teams are running clinical studies on various kinds of colorectal cancers.

Colon Cancer

The colon is part of the body’s digestive system and includes the esophagus, stomach, and the small and large intestines. Also known as the large bowel, it is the main part of the large intestine and is about 5 feet long.

Colon Cancer Clinical Trials

Rectal Cancer

Rectal cancer forms in the tissues in the rectum, a part of the body’s digestive system. The rectum and anal canal make up the last six to eight inches of the large intestine.

Rectal Cancer Clinical Trials

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Prevention and Early Detection

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Fred Hutch is home to several large-scale studies focused on identifying the key lifestyle factors that may affect a person’s risk of colorectal cancer. We are also investigating ways to detect colon cancer earlier with improved tests that can identify people with polyps or with early cancer. Much of our research is focused on identifying biomarkers such as genes  or proteins associated with higher risk. Having such biomarkers or a family history of colon cancer would warrant more intensive and frequent screening.

Our epidemiologists are working alongside our bench scientists to integrate genetic, lifestyle and environmental risk factors into a single comprehensive predictor of colorectal cancer risk. This precision prevention tool could eventually provide a better guide for personalized dietary recommendations and interventions such as the use of aspirin to reduce risk. It could also tell doctors when to recommend colonoscopy screening for each patient.

New Drug Targets

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Our scientists are discovering gene mutations that may increase risk of colon cancer and telltale proteins on cancer cells that could be targets for new drugs. This knowledge could improve prevention and early detection efforts as well as treatment.

Clinical Trials

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Our colorectal cancer clinical studies typically involve combinations of conventional chemotherapy drugs with new therapeutic agents. Some of these new drugs are immunotherapies, drugs that restore the cancer-killing capacity of immune cells that have been disarmed by the tumor. Other new drugs inhibit particular molecular pathways in cancer cells. Such drugs disrupt the inner workings of tumor cells that have been dangerously altered by gene mutations.

Colorectal Cancer Research

Fred Hutch researchers are seeking better ways to prevent and detect colon polyps and colon cancer, and better ways to treat colorectal cancer. We are also working toward improved understanding of the factors that influence each person’s risk of developing this cancer. Our scientists are also developing new methods to gauge the likelihood a tumor will respond to treatment.

Our physician-researchers are running numerous clinical trials of new drugs and drug combinations to treat different types of colorectal cancer. These experimental therapies are part of a trend toward precision cancer care, in which treatments are designed to target a specific patient’s tumor based on its molecular profile.

Much of our research is focused on developing more precise ways to prevent colon cancer through early detection and prompt, personalized treatment. Because colonoscopy procedures can detect and remove precancerous polyps, screening and prevention for this disease are tightly linked. Our researchers also study factors that can boost colorectal cancer survival in certain patients, such as exercise or the use of NSAIDs such as aspirin.

image of fresh salad

Prevention & Early Detection

Fred Hutch is home to several large-scale studies focused on identifying the key lifestyle factors that may affect a person’s risk of colorectal cancer. We are also investigating ways to detect colon cancer earlier with improved tests that can identify people with polyps or with early cancer. Much of our research is focused on identifying biomarkers such as genes  or proteins associated with higher risk. Having such biomarkers or a family history of colon cancer would warrant more intensive and frequent screening.

New Drug Targets

Our scientists are discovering gene mutations that may increase risk of colon cancer as well as telltale proteins on cancer cells that could be targets for new drugs. This knowledge could improve prevention and early detection efforts as well as treatment.

Precision Prevention

Our epidemiologists are working alongside our bench scientists to integrate genetic, lifestyle and environmental risk factors into a single comprehensive predictor of colorectal cancer risk. This precision prevention tool could eventually provide a better guide for personalized dietary recommendations and interventions such as the use of aspirin to reduce risk. It could also tell doctors when to recommend colonoscopy screening for each individual patient.

Active Projects

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Advanced Colorectal Cancer of Serrated Subtype (ACCESS) Study

Public Health Sciences, Cancer Prevention

Researchers are studying a subtype of colorectal cancer (CRC) that develops via the serrated pathway with a goal of determining future prevention strategies and advancing treatment for CRC.

Funding Agency: National Institutes of Health

Contact: Rachel Malen, rmalen@fredhutch.org

Bacterial Correlates of Colorectal Cancer Subtypes and Survival

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

Scientists identify differences in the bacterial community in tumors for patients with etiologically-distinct subgroups of colorectal cancer, and how those differences relate to survival.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Amanda Phipps, aphipps@fredhutch.org

Colocare Study

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

ColoCare is a research study for people newly diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer. It includes researchers, doctors, nurses, and patients working together to learn more about improving health after a cancer diagnosis.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Kathy Vickers, kvickers@fredhutch.org

Colorectal Research in Epidemiology (CORE) Family Studies

Public Health Sciences, Cancer Prevention

Working with biological specimens, medical records and interviews, researchers investigate how genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors effects the incidence of colon and rectal cancers.

Funding Agency: National Institutes of Health

Contact: Rachel Malen, rmalen@fredhuthc.org

Latest Colorectal Cancer News

SEE ALL COLORECTAL CANCER NEWS >
Dedicated supporters at the Heart of the Hutch Using creativity and passion to support Fred Hutch research in good times and bad May 5, 2022
Science Says: Comedian, researchers tackle tough topics Trevor Noah and scientists discuss colorectal cancer screening, community involvement in research, science communication March 25, 2022
Cancer, COVID-19 and proceeding with caution Patients in treatment and those with compromised or suppressed immune systems eye the future — and pandemic’s wane — warily February 16, 2022
Dr. Rachel Issaka receives the Kathryn Surace-Smith Endowed Chair in Health Equity Research Flexible funding will further physician-scientist’s work in colorectal cancer and health inequities February 2, 2022