Providence Colorectal Cancer Program

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Colorectal Cancer Program

503-215-6014

Colorectal Cancer Program

At Providence, we care for all your colorectal needs. From screening for colon cancer through diagnosis, treatment and follow-up, we support you every step of the way.

Colon cancer can be scary. It’s the third most common cancer in the U.S. Most people diagnosed with colon cancer don’t have any symptoms at first. It can be harder to notice colon cancer signs until the cancer is more advanced.

But the good news is colon cancer is preventable. There are effective screening tests, such as colonoscopy, that help find colon cancer and rectal cancer early. And the earlier specialists find colorectal cancer, the easier it is to treat.

Our Colorectal Cancer Program includes a team of experts in colorectal cancer prevention and treatment. With medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and surgeons all under one roof, you’ll have access to coordinated care, so you can focus on getting better. Let’s stop colorectal cancer – together.

New guidelines

The American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently revised their guidelines to begin colorectal cancer screening at age 45. Contact your health insurance provider to learn about coverage information for colorectal screening.

Additional details

Colorectal cancer is cancer in the colon or rectum. Sometimes, it’s called colon cancer or rectal cancer (though often, it’s combined as colorectal cancer). The colon and rectum make up the large intestine, a part of the digestive system.

What causes colorectal cancer

Colon and rectal cancer start from small growths called polyps. These polyps are lumps that form in the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Some polyps can become cancerous as they grow and spread to other parts of the body.

Polyp symptoms may not appear until the cancer is more advanced. Some symptoms of colorectal cancer include blood in the stool, changes in bowel habits or stomach pain.

Other causes of colorectal cancer

There are factors that may make someone more likely to develop colorectal cancer:

  • African American
  • An immediate family member (mother, father, sister or brother) who has had polyps or colorectal cancer
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Getting older
  • High consumption of red or processed meat
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Inherited condition that causes colorectal cancer, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
  • Low fiber diet
  • Overweight or no exercise
  • Previous colorectal cancer
  • Previous colon polyps or rectal polyps
  • Smoking

At Providence, we’re here to answer your questions about colorectal cancer. If you have any risk factors, it’s important to talk to your doctor.

Additional details

Unlike many cancers, colorectal cancer is preventable. Screening can help lower your risk for colorectal cancer. The screening process helps find any small growths (called colon polyps or rectal polyps) in the lining of your colon or rectum.

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 6 of 10 deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented if everyone over age 50 got screened regularly.

There are a few types of colorectal cancer screenings. The most common include:

  • Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT): This is a yearly test that requires a stool sample. The test checks for hidden blood in the stool that can be an early sign of colorectal cancer. Results from this test may show a need for a colonoscopy.
  • Colonoscopy: This is the most common type of colorectal cancer screening. Most specialists consider it the “gold standard” in detecting colon cancer. People who have a colonoscopy with normal findings should get screened every 10 years. Myth-busting colonoscopy: Addressing your concerns.

You should talk to your doctor about which screening test is right for you.

  • Who should get a colorectal cancer screening?

    The American Cancer Society and U.S. Preventive Task Force recommend beginning colorectal cancer screening at age 45 and continuing screening until age 75. Some people may get screened earlier if they have certain risk factors or symptoms:

    • Blood in the stool or ongoing changes in bowel habits
    • Family history of colorectal cancer
    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • Personal history of colon polyps or rectal polyps

    Contact your health insurance provider to learn about coverage information for colorectal cancer screening.

  • Why get a colonoscopy?

    A colonoscopy can detect more than 95% of cancer cells, colon polyps and rectal polyps. During a colonoscopy, a specialist spots and removes polyps. This removal decreases the risk of colorectal cancer.

  • What happens during a colonoscopy?

    A specialist uses a tool called a colonoscope to look at the inside of the rectum and the entire colon. A colonoscope has a light and a camera for viewing. It also has a tool for removing polyps, if needed.

    Patients lie on their side or back while the specialist slowly moves the colonoscope through the large intestine. Patients are usually given medicine to help them relax and sleep during the colonoscopy. This means they are comfortable and often don’t even remember the procedure afterwards.

    A colonoscopy takes about 30 minutes, but patients typically stay at the clinic for two to three hours. Time includes waiting, preparation and recovery.

  • What about preparing for the colonoscopy?

    A colonoscopy requires that the colon be completely empty. Patients must follow a liquid diet and take prescribed laxatives to clean the colon before the procedure. To ensure a successful procedure, patients should follow all prep instructions from their doctor and ask any questions.

    It’s important to have someone drive you home after the procedure.

    Six ways to make colonoscopy prep more comfortable (really!)

  • Are there other ways to reduce the risk for colorectal cancer?

    The main ways to reduce your risk for colorectal cancer include these actions:

    • Do not smoke
    • Eat fruit, veggies and whole grains
    • Exercise 30 minutes a day
    • Get screened
    • Limit alcohol
    • Limit consumption of red and processed meat
    • Watch your weight

When you have cancer, it can be overwhelming to figure out what to do next. Our team of colorectal specialists is here to help determine which treatment option is best for you.

Additional details
  • Colon cancer treatment options
    • Colonoscopy: Specialists can remove some early colorectal cancers and many polyps during a colonoscopy.
    • Colon cancer surgery: More advanced colorectal cancer may require surgery. Board-certified colorectal surgeons at Providence often use minimally invasive surgery techniques to shorten hospital stays.
    • Radiation therapy: For some colon cancers, you may need chemotherapy and radiation to try to shrink the tumor. Providence offers multiple types of radiation therapy, including new MRI-guided radiation therapy (MR-Linac). This technology can deliver more precise radiation treatment because of its ongoing MRI monitoring of organ movement during treatment. MR-Linac decreases damage to healthy tissues and organs. It provides stronger, shorter and more effective radiation therapy compared to standard methods.
    • Targeted therapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy: Multiple therapies can be used together or separately to target cancer cells. These drugs may be injected into a vein or taken orally to enter the bloodstream and treat the cancer. Providence has been involved in developing new immunotherapy treatments for over 25 years. Providence is also known globally for robust research and breakthrough treatments offered to patients.
    • Genomic sequencing: This process can help your providers determine what treatments may be helpful and find new study treatment options.
  • Rectal cancer treatment options

    As the only cancer program in Oregon that is accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Rectal Cancer (NAPRC), Providence meets the highest standards for rectal cancer treatment. As a NAPRC program, we ensure that a full team of rectal cancer experts reviews every patient’s treatment plan. When a team of experts reviews your diagnosis and determines an evidence-based care plan, it is proven to lead to better treatment outcomes.

    Treatment options include:

    • Organ sparing therapy: Many patients with rectal cancer aim to avoid radical surgery, removal of the colon and a permanent colostomy (bag). By using a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, and highly specialized transrectal surgery, Providence doctors try to avoid radical surgery and minimize the long-term side effects of therapy.
    • Chemotherapy: This therapy plays a major role in the treatment of rectal cancer. It is often given before surgery to maximize the benefits and to have the least possible side effects. Providence has been involved in developing new immunotherapy treatments for over 25 years. Providence is also known globally for the robust research and breakthrough treatments offered to patients.
    • Radiation therapy: For some rectal cancers, you may need chemotherapy and radiation to try to shrink the tumor. Providence offers multiple types of radiation therapy, including new MRI-guided radiation therapy (MR-Linac). This technology can deliver more precise radiation treatment because of its ongoing MRI monitoring of organ movement during treatment. MR-Linac decreases damage to healthy tissues and organs. It provides stronger, shorter and more effective radiation therapy compared to standard methods.
  • Anal cancer treatment options

    At the Providence Cancer Institute Franz Dysplasia Clinic, we focus on people at a high risk for anal dysplasia. Anal dysplasia includes a spectrum of diseases and lesions that can lead to invasive anal cancer, which is different from colorectal cancer. Our services are focused on preventing anal dysplasia from turning into anal cancer.

    They include:

    • Anal pap smear screening, which helps find anal cancer
    • High-resolution anoscopy, which helps examine the anal canal and includes a biopsy of abnormal lesions
    • Infrared coagulation, which targets and removes pre-cancerous lesions using a light-based ablative therapy
    • Patient access to integrative medicine and psychosocial support
    • Patient education and support for anal health, human papillomavirus (HPV) and HPV vaccination
    • Resources to stop smoking and improve healthy eating habits
    • Topical treatments applied to the body’s surface
    • Training for health care providers who wish to perform anal pap smear screenings in their own offices

    Should your cancer develop further and require treatment, we offer the following options:

    • Radiation therapy: For some anal cancers, you may need chemotherapy and radiation to try to shrink the tumor. Providence offers multiple types of radiation therapy, including new MRI-guided radiation therapy (MR-Linac). This technology can deliver more precise radiation treatment because of its ongoing MRI monitoring of organ movement during treatment. MR-Linac decreases damage to healthy tissues and organs. It provides stronger, shorter and more effective radiation therapy compared to standard methods.
    • Chemotherapy and immunotherapy: Multiple therapies can be used together or separately to target cancer cells. These drugs may be injected into a vein or taken orally to enter the bloodstream and treat the cancer. Providence has been involved in developing new immunotherapy treatments for over 25 years. Providence is also known globally for the robust research and breakthrough treatments offered to patients.
    • Genomic sequencing: Genomic sequencing can help your providers determine what treatments may be helpful and find new study treatment options.

Clinical trials are research studies that test whether new medical treatments, devices or strategies are safe and effective. Patients who volunteer for clinical trials play an active role in their own health care. They often gain access to new study treatments and help others by improving and advancing medical care.

At Providence, our colorectal specialists work directly with our researchers. We don’t stop until we can find a way to treat your colorectal cancer. Clinical trials give you access to the latest treatments available.

More than 150 trials are open at any time.

 U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals 2021-22: Colon Cancer SurgeryAt Providence, we are a leader in cancer research and treatment. Providence Portland Medical Center and Providence St. Vincent Medical Center received the US News & World Report award for High Performing Hospitals for Colon Cancer Surgery. Our skilled specialists are ready to help you. Learn more about the risk factors, signs and symptoms, as well as treatment options for colorectal cancer.

NAPRC Accreditation – Providence first in region to receive rectal cancer program accreditation.

Related Resources

Colorectal Cancer Screening

Colorectal cancer is common in the U.S. But thankfully, we have effective screening methods that can catch it early. The earlier we find colorectal cancer, the better chance we have for a cure.


Learn more from Dr. Hagen Kennecke about the importance of colorectal screening.

Risk Increases in Younger Populations

In the past 20 years, colorectal cancer has risen among people under age 50. The American Cancer society recommends screening at age 45 for people at average risk. Regular screening is key to preventing colorectal cancer and finding it early. Talk to your doctor about your screening options and check insurance to make sure screening at your age is covered.

Learn more about screening

A Survivor's Story

Hear from a Providence patient about his experience with colorectal cancer – including how he was diagnosed and treated. He also has an important message about getting screened for colorectal cancer.