After a rectal cancer diagnosis, choose the right surgeon

August 31, 2018 Providence Health Team

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Living Well Through Cancer Treatment and Beyond

If you’ve been diagnosed with rectal cancer, you naturally want to find the best treatment available to you. Here’s a key indicator: More is better.

In other words, more rectal cancer surgeries = better outcomes.

“I don’t think most centers publicize that,” said Mark Whiteford, MD, the medical director for the Colorectal Cancer program at the Providence Cancer Institute in Oregon. But, while not widely known to the general public, the number of colorectal surgeries a center performs can be correlated to patient outcomes.

This has been shown in multiple studies, including one published last year in the journal Diseases of the Colon & Rectum (video abstract here.) Lead author Zhaomin Xu, M.D., examined whether it was worthwhile for rectal cancer patients to travel to have treatment at high-volume cancer centers.

Said Dr. Xu: “The findings of our study suggest that patients who traveled a long distance to high-volume centers experienced improved perioperative outcomes and long-term survival rates compared to their counterparts who were treated locally at low-volume centers.”

Providence’s Colorectal Cancer program is one of the region’s busiest colorectal cancer centers. That means surgeons like Dr. Whiteford do more procedures, and more minimally invasive procedures, than many surgeons treating patients with colorectal cancers.

Treating colorectal cancer at Providence

Physicians and surgeons who work in high-volume centers are more current with the specialized research and techniques that are relevant to your cancer. That means you’re more likely to live longer, with fewer complications, than if you’d gone to a center that performs just a handful of procedures a year.

At Providence’s Colorectal Cancer Program, Dr. Whiteford said, the hospital team meets weekly for 90 minutes to discuss treatment plans for every doctor’s colorectal cancer patient. He said the discussion reaches a consensus that is enriched by the perspectives of every member of the team, from the doctor who sees the patient to the one who reads the patient’s high-definition MRI.

“It’s like an ESPN SportsCenter discussion, except we’re not Monday morning quarterbacking,” Dr. Whiteford said. “We’re studying films.”

After the group reaches a consensus about how best to treat a patient, the doctor takes it back to the patient, who makes the ultimate decision about how to proceed.

An example of leading-edge research at Providence

Some years ago, Dr. Whiteford had a brainstorm: What if you could remove a colorectal cancer without making any incision at all? What if a surgeon could simply use the orifice provided by nature?

To condense a long story that involved partnerships with other surgeons in other states and other countries, Dr. Whiteford tested the idea on cadavers and discussed with other experts the ways the procedure might most effectively be performed. Today, it is performed widely in Europe and is in clinical trials in the United States — including at the Providence Colorectal Cancer Program.

For Dr. Whiteford, the experience of helping to take a new procedure from an idea to practice has been “a great train ride.” For patients, it’s becoming a way to ease the trauma and shorten the recovery time after a colorectal cancer procedure.

In the end, the Providence Colorectal Cancer Program’s clinical expertise and dedication to discovering curative therapies has brightened the outlook for cancer patients.

If you’d like to talk to a Providence provider about colorectal cancer or anything else, you can find one near you in our online directory

AK: Providence Cancer Center

OR: Providence Cancer Institute

CA: Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center; John Wayne Cancer Institute

WA: Providence Regional Cancer System; Providence Regional Cancer Center – Spokane; Swedish Cancer Institute; Kadlec Oncology Program; Pacific Medical Centers; Providence Regional Cancer Center

MT: Montana Cancer Center at Providence St. Patrick Hospital and Providence St. Joseph Medical Center

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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