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Gastrointestinal (GI) Oncology Program

The Latest Treatments for Colon Cancer


This year, more than 106,000 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer. Luckily, many technologies have recently evolved providing cancer patients with better, less painful treatments, easier and faster recovery and reduced side effects.

One such advance is the ability to remove cancerous lesions of the colon using minimally invasive surgical techniques. Laparoscopic colectomy, as compared to traditional open surgery which requires a long abdominal incision, dramatically reduces recovery time and helps patients return to normal activities quickly. The surgical team at the University of Maryland uses small incisions and telescopes to remove a diseased segment of the colon and then sews together the two ends of the colon. Laparoscopic colectomy has been widely accepted for the treatment of benign colon diseases for nearly ten years. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that the laparoscopic techniques are as effective as open surgery in treating colon cancer.

Another advancement in the treatment of colon cancer gives hope to those patients whose disease has spread to the liver. Radiofrequency ablation, or RFA, is now an option for what used to be risky or impossible surgical removal of liver metastases. Physicians use RFA to precisely target the tumors, sparing healthy liver tissue and avoiding the risk of bleeding associated with liver resection. RFA is performed using a special needle with an electrode. Using CT or MRI imaging to visualize the target, physicians insert the needle through the skin and guide it to the tumor. Using the electrode at the end of the needle, physicians send a radiofrequency current to the tumor that essentially destroys it. While eliminating the tumor, the ablation also closes up surrounding blood vessels so bleeding is minimal.

In some cases, liver metastases don't respond to treatment or the patient is not a candidate for the procedure. Extracranial Stereotactic Radiosurgery (ESRS), one of the newest approaches to conquering cancer, may still be an option for these patients.

As William Regine, M.D., professor and chair of the department of radiation oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and chief of radiation oncology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, explains, "The extracranial stereotactic radiosurgery delivers extremely high doses of radiation with more precision, harming less healthy tissue." In 2003, the FDA approved ESRS and the University of Maryland has been applying it toward treating patients with cancers of the head and neck, lung, abdomen, pelvis and colon. Because no cutting is performed during this procedure, the risk of infection and bleeding is eliminated.

While a cure for many cancers still doesn't exist, new, minimally invasive approaches to treating it can greatly improve patients, quality of life and chances for survival.

This page was last updated on: March 3, 2008.

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