The most common types of GI cancers include esophageal, stomach, pancreatic, and liver, along with colon and rectal cancer, which account for about 150,000 new cases each year. Colorectal cancers are the most common and most treatable GI cancers in the United States.
“The number of cases of colorectal cancer and the number of deaths continue to decline, which is fantastic,” says Dr. Christopher Yasenchak, a medical oncologist with Willamette Valley Cancer Institute. “We think that is largely related to increased screening, so colonoscopies, for instance, to remove polyps before they can turn into a cancer.”
New Ways to Treat Stage 4 Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer can be caused by several factors—from underlying conditions to lifestyle choices and genetics. While doctors are seeing fewer cases of the disease, more younger people are being diagnosed.
The primary treatments for colorectal cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, and Dr. Yasenchak says research is ongoing to find better ways to identify and treat these cancers. “We’ve made tremendous progress and particularly in patients with stage 4 cancer,” he says. “It used to be that the average survival was probably a year, and now we’re looking at three years potentially and beyond that. Improvement in the medications that we can offer and the aggressive surgical techniques that are available have definitely made a difference.”
Since the biological makeup of colon cancer is often different in each patient, Dr. Yasenchak says testing is available to identify specific mutations within the cancer cells. “And doing this molecular profiling on the cancer to identify what makes it tick, so to speak, will help us identify treatment options for patients moving forward.”
Clinical Trials Are Advancing Treatment Options for Colorectal Cancer
As a member of The US Oncology Network, Willamette Valley Cancer Institute offers patients access to one of the nation’s largest research networks. WVCI is currently involved in clinical research trials studying new therapies for colorectal cancer and other GI cancers.
Clinical trials are conducted in a series of steps, called phases, and each phase is designed to answer a separate research question.
- Phase I: Researchers test a new drug or treatment in a small group of people for the first time to evaluate its safety, determine a safe dosage range, and identify side effects.
- Phase II: The drug or treatment is given to a larger group of people to see if it is effective and to further evaluate its safety.
- Phase III: The drug or treatment is given to large groups of people to confirm its effectiveness, monitor side effects, and compare it to commonly used treatments.
Colorectal Cancer Screening Recommendations
Colonoscopy is the only screening test that can prevent and detect colon cancer, by spotting polyps early so they can be removed before they become cancerous. However, there are several types of at-home tests that can detect abnormalities.
It’s recommended that people at average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45. If you have a family history of colon cancer or colon polyps in a first degree relative, your first colonoscopy should take place at age 40. If your family history of colon cancer is in a first degree relative diagnosed before age 50, it’s recommended that your first colonoscopy take place when you are 10 years younger than the age of your relative’s cancer diagnosis.
There are also several types of at-home tests that can detect abnormalities. Talk with your doctor about your screening options.
The bottom line, Dr. Yasenchak says, is to get screened at the appropriate age and to learn your family history of cancer. Cancers that are caught early have the best chance of being cured.
Colorectal and GI Cancer Care Available at the Willamette Valley
Whether you've been recently diagnosed with colorectal cancer or another GI cancer, or if you're looking for a second opinion, the oncologists at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute are ready to help you get through the next steps.
Original article by Kelli Warner, Targeting Cancer Series.