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Valley offers advanced colorectal cancer treatment right in northern New Jersey.
When colorectal cancer is caught before it has spread, treatment can cure it almost 90% of the time. If it has spread to lymph nodes or other nearby parts of the body, treatment can cure it more than 70% of the time. Even after it has spread widely, treatment can prolong life and reduce pain.
Colorectal cancer is a general term that can refer to colon cancer or rectal cancer. The most common type of colorectal cancer is called adenocarcinoma.
Colorectal Cancer Symptoms
Colorectal cancer often has no symptoms until its later stages. It can occur at any age. And while it sometimes runs in families, most people who get it don’t have a family history of colorectal cancer.
For these reasons, it’s important to start regular colon cancer screening by age 45 — or earlier if you have symptoms or a strong family history of colorectal cancer. The earlier cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat.
Especially in its later stages, colorectal cancer may cause the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- A change in your bowel habits (going more or less than usual)
- Blood in your stool
- Nausea or vomiting
- Weight loss without a clear cause
These symptoms don’t mean you definitely have colorectal cancer, but you shouldn’t ignore them. If you have them, please make an appointment with a primary care doctor or a gastroenterologist at Valley. If they think you may have cancer, they may recommend a colonoscopy.
The Valley Approach to Colorectal Cancer
At Valley, your care will be based on the latest research and precisely tailored to your individual needs.
It will also be multidisciplinary, which means you’ll have access to a whole team of experts. They’ll work together to design a treatment plan based on your specific needs and type of cancer. Your team may include:
- Colorectal surgeons
- Medical oncologists
- Radiation oncologists
- Genetic counselors
- Primary care physicians
- Diagnostic radiologists
- Interventional radiologists
- Surgical oncologists
- Social workers
Depending on the characteristics and location of your tumor, you may see multiple experts during your treatment. And the colorectal cancer team at Valley has regular conferences where doctors discuss the details of patients’ treatment plans. This ensures that patients can benefit from a deep pool of expertise.
The team at Valley also participates in regular conferences with the Mount Sinai Health System colorectal cancer team. This means you can access the expertise of both health systems without leaving northern New Jersey.
Colorectal Cancer Treatment at Valley
The right treatment for you will depend on:
- The location of the tumor.
- Whether the tumor is causing bleeding or blockage, or other requires urgent action.
- Whether the cancer has spread to your lymph nodes or another part of your body.
- Whether you or the cancer have genetic mutations that may respond to specific treatments.
- Your lifestyle, preferences and goals for treatment.
After considering all of the above, and in consultation with you, your team will suggest a treatment plan that includes one or more of the following.
Genetic and Genomic Testing
Valley experts do tests on the cancer’s genes — and sometimes on your genes — to help determine the right treatment:
- Genetic testing: Some genetic mutations are inherited. That means people in the same family are likely to share them. If we suspect the cancer may be related to an inherited mutation, we’ll test you for specific genetic mutations that increase cancer risk. If we find an inherited mutation, we can test your family members to determine their risk. We also offer genetic counseling to help families with high risk prevent cancer or catch it early.
- Circulating tumor DNA testing (ctDNA): We offer tests that look for circulating tumor DNA in your blood after your surgeon has removed your tumor. This helps us estimate the risk that the cancer will come back, so that we can make more informed treatment decisions. For example, if we find ctDNA, we may recommend chemotherapy to reduce the risk of recurrence.
- Genomic testing: For many patients, we do genomic testing that looks at hundreds of the cancer’s genes. This allows us to find genetic mutations that we can target with specific cancer drugs. As many as 15% of people with colorectal cancer may benefit from drugs that target specific genetic mutations in the cancer. And that number is likely to increase as research advances.
Whether and when you need surgery depends on many things, including the cancer’s size and location:
- For colon cancer and very early rectal cancer, surgery is often the first step. For very early colon and rectal cancers, your surgeon may remove just the cancer (usually with a procedure called a local excision). Even beyond the very early stages, surgery is typically the best treatment for colon cancer that hasn’t spread throughout the body. Usually this involves removing the cancer and part of your colon (a procedure called a colectomy).
- For rectal cancer, surgery often comes after other treatments. Compared with surgery to remove colon cancer, surgery to remove rectal cancer can be more complex and technically demanding. By starting with radiation and chemotherapy, Valley medical oncologists can shrink the cancer before surgeons remove it. Shrinking it can make surgery more successful.
When you have surgery at Valley, you’ll be in excellent hands. Valley colorectal surgeons have expertise in the latest techniques, including robotic surgery and laparoscopy.
They focus on removing the cancer, of course. But they also work to make your recovery as fast and comfortable as it can be. And, most of the time, they are able to use procedures that can prevent you from needing a colostomy. (A colostomy is a temporary or permanent opening of the intestine that diverts stool into a collection bag, rather than the usual route.)
Chemotherapy, Immunotherapy and Radiation Therapy
Valley offers all the latest chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy options. Depending on your needs, we may recommend a combination of these treatments before, after or instead of surgery:
- Before rectal cancer surgery: Valley medical oncologists may use a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy to shrink rectal cancer before surgery. This leads to better outcomes and less chance of needing an ostomy. In some cases, the cancer shrinks so much that surgery isn’t needed. This is sometimes called a “watch and wait” approach, meaning that your doctors will watch to see if you need rectal cancer surgery.
- After colon or rectal cancer surgery: Sometimes surgery can’t completely remove colon or rectal cancer. In these cases, we use chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy or a combination of treatments to get rid of remaining cancer cells.
- Instead of colon or rectal cancer surgery: If cancer has spread to many areas of the body, surgery isn’t always an optimal treatment. But even if we can’t do surgery to remove the cancer, we can prolong life and reduce pain with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or a combination of treatments.
In addition to the latest approved therapies, we offer access to clinical trials at Valley and Mount Sinai Health System. Through clinical trials, you can access new therapies before they become widely available.
Support During and After Treatment
We know cancer makes your life challenging. To help you cope with symptoms and treatment and live a full life, we offer:
- Surveillance and survivorship education, including regular screenings to make sure the cancer hasn’t come back, plus advice on diet, exercise and lifestyle habits that may improve your chances of remaining cancer-free
- Ostomy care and education, if you need it, from experienced nurses at Valley’s Wound, Ostomy & Continence Center
Why Choose Valley for Colorectal Cancer Care?
- Highly experienced surgeons: Valley’s colorectal surgeons focus only on colorectal surgery. Each year, they perform more than 200 colorectal surgeries and nearly 2,000 colonoscopies. This experience gives them a high level of expertise. They’re also among a small number of surgeons who have board certifications in both general surgery and colorectal surgery.
- Innovative options for avoiding colostomy: The vast majority of our patients do not need a permanent colostomy after surgery. Part of the reason for this is that Valley colorectal surgeons offer innovative procedures that can prevent the need for colostomy.
- Advanced treatments for metastatic colorectal cancer: We offer targeted radiation and chemotherapy options that deliver high doses of treatment to the cancer while minimizing side effects. These include intraperitoneal chemotherapy, a form of chemotherapy that delivers chemotherapy to the inside of your abdomen.
- An appointment as soon as possible: We can usually see you within one or two days after you first call for an appointment. In some cases, we may need more time to ensure we can get any needed records and test results from other providers. We always focus on getting you in as quickly as possible.
- Recognized quality: Valley-Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Care has been accredited as a Comprehensive Community Cancer Program by the American College of Surgeons. It’s also one of only 300 practices in the world with Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI) certification from the American College of Clinical Oncology. And Valley’s Radiation Oncology Department is the first facility or medical practice in northern New Jersey to be awarded accreditation from the American College of Radiology (ACR). All of these achievements reflect Valley’s commitment to providing the highest-quality care.
- The best of both worlds: Valley-Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Care brings together the advanced options available at leading hospitals and the personalized attention that Valley is known for.