A Comprehensive Cancer Center Designated by the National Cancer Institute

Pathways to Discovery: Spring 2011

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Experts Take Team-Based Approach to Treat Colorectal Cancer

We are ... in the process of developing a colorectal cancer survivors clinic to help patients maximize their health after cancer treatment to allow them to live a healthy and productive life.
—Blase Polite, MD

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women, according to the American Cancer Society. Because of the UCCCC’s strengths in the areas of treatment and research, it is a place where colorectal cancer patients can receive a high level of personalized care.

Available Treatment Options
From the moment a patient contacts the Center for Gastrointestinal Oncology, a trained intake specialist assembles a team of dedicated surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and interventional gastroenterologists. Using the most accurate information from detailed CT scans, the team coordinates an individualized plan that draws on their collective strengths and experiences.

“The team that treats colorectal cancer at The University of Chicago focuses almost exclusively on these cancers,” said Blase N. Polite, MD, assistant professor of medicine. “This is what we do. Many of us are also national leaders who teach other physicians around the country how to best treat colorectal cancer.” For example, UChicago colorectal surgeons are pioneering minimally invasive robotic surgeries for patients with rectal cancer to speed recovery and reduce the number of patients who need permanent colostomy bags.

UChicago also has a cancer risk group that helps young patients with colorectal cancer and those with extensive family histories of the disease. “We are also in the process of developing a colorectal cancer survivors’ clinic to help patients maximize their health after cancer treatment to allow them to live a healthy and productive life,” said Dr. Polite.

Research Continues to Improve Care
The UCCCC is committed to advancing cancer care through therapeutic clinical trials. Dr. Polite explained there are three main areas of active research—personalized cancer care, multidisciplinary rectal cancer treatment, and investigation of new drugs.

First, the personalization of cancer care is being applied through a trial that uses a patient’s genetic profile to help physicians determine how best to dose chemotherapy. So far, researchers have been able to increase the standard dose of chemotherapy by more than 50% in certain patients without increasing the toxicity of therapy.

Second, researchers are focused on ways to improve the cancer disappearance rate and limit the surgical complications of patients with rectal cancer. In an ongoing trial, they are testing whether offering chemotherapy earlier in the treatment process is better tolerated, causes more tumors to shrink or disappear, and helps some patients avoid surgery.

“Preliminary results from this study show that we are achieving almost twice the rate of tumor disappearance as we have seen in the past,” Dr. Polite said.

The third area of research involves finding the next generation of drugs to treat chemotherapy-resistant tumors. Soon to be launched is a National Cancer Institute-sponsored trial to test a new class of drugs, called insulin growth factor inhibitors, in patients with refractory colorectal cancer.

“We are a resource to colorectal cancer patients and their physicians in the greater Chicago area and beyond and encourage patients to utilize that resource,” said Dr. Polite.

Recognizing Risk Factors
Sonia Kupfer, MD, assistant professor of medicine and a gastroenterologist in the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics, offered the following factors that research has shown to increase patients’ risk for developing colorectal cancer. Individuals with one or more of these risk factors should talk to their doctor to consider early or more intensive screening.

• 50 years or older
• African Americans should consider screening starting at age 45

Family history
• Multiple family members with cancer especially at age less than 50*
• First-degree relative with colorectal cancer or polyps

Personal medical history
• Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
• Diabetes

Diet and lifestyle
• High intake of red and processed meat
• Low intake of fruits and vegetables
• Obesity
• Smoking
• Heavy alcohol consumption

* Should be considered for hereditary colorectal cancer syndromes such as Lynch Syndrome

For more information, contact the Center for Gastrointestinal Oncology at