Rectal Cancer

Blas? Polite and gionc doctors The gastrointestinal oncology team meets regularly to discuss treatment options for patients.

The University of Chicago Center for Gastrointestinal Oncology has been an innovator when it comes to the diagnosis, treatment, and management of rectal cancers. Here are just a few of the services we offer:

Advanced Staging Technology

Once rectal cancer has been diagnosed, properly staging the cancer is extremely important. Staging is a term used to describe the extent and size of the cancerous area. The stage of a patient's rectal cancer can help determine the best course of treatment. We offer the following:

  • Colonoscopy: A physician inserts a colonoscope (thin tube with a light) inside the rectum to look for polyps, abnormal areas, or cancer.
  • Virtual colonoscopy: A noninvasive test for screening colon cancers. Virtual colonoscopy (VC) uses X-rays and computers to produce two- and three-dimensional images of the rectum, and then displays these images on a screen.
  • Ultrasound: We offer both endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) and 3-D transrectal ultrasound (TRUS). In fact, we perform more ultrasounds than any other hospital in Chicago. During this procedure, a physician uses a special ultrasound probe to capture images or take samples of tissue.
  • Probe-based confocal laser endomicroscopy (pCLE): A precise technique for viewing tissue cells in the digestive tract at a cellular level. Using one of the world's smallest microscopes, physicians are able to detect and remove cancerous tissue immediately--in a single procedure. Or, in more complex cases, doctors may send a patient immediately to surgery. The University of Chicago medical center is the only hospital in the region offering this advanced technique.
  • Computed tomography scan (CT scan): We have advanced 256-slice and 64-slice CT scanners. These scanners produce detailed, three-dimensional images.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): During an MRI, a computer uses magnetic waves to create pictures of the inside of the patient's body, thus avoiding the use of radiation.
  • Positron emission tomography scan (PET scan): With the use of a radiolabelled glucose (sugar), very small tumor deposits are detected before they become clinically significant.

Experts in Minimally Invasive Surgery

Dr. Fichera in surgery

The most common treatment for rectal cancer is surgery. At the Center for Gastrointestinal Oncology, the majority of our patients have laparoscopic surgery. Laparoscopic surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that causes less injury to surrounding tissue--meaning less pain and a shorter recovery time without impacting quality of life.

Our physicians have been performing laparoscopic surgery for colorectal pathology longer than anyone else in the Chicago area. Throughout the year, we also perform more of these procedures than any other medical center in the region. For patients, this expertise translates into a more accurate procedure with fewer complications. »Learn about colectomy, a surgical procedure for colon and rectal cancer

The surgical team also offers transanal endoscopic microsurgery (TEM), a new minimally invasive technique in which early or superficial rectal tumors can be removed through the anus. Since no incisions are required, patients generally experience no pain, their bowel movements are not altered, and they are usually able to leave the hospital within one to two days.

Sphincter-Saving Procedures

Whenever possible, our physicians avoid the use of a permanent colostomy--an opening on the outside of the body for waste to pass through. If a patient has a permanent colostomy, he or she will need an external bag to collect waste. University of Chicago surgeons understand that this is a quality of life issue. By combining preoperative chemoradiation therapy, we are able to shrink a tumor and remove it without compromising a patient's bowel function.

The University of Chicago Medicine has an internationally renowned program for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). Our experience in this area gives our surgeons a higher level of skill when it comes to performing lower resections and creating very low anastomosis.

Team Approach to Rectal Cancer Care

Elana and Michelle Jahnke With the help of seven UChicago Medicine medical experts, Michelle Jahnke beat rectal cancer while she was pregnant with her first child. Jahnke delivered a healthy baby girl.

Each patient's case is discussed by our GI oncology team which includes gastroenterologists; medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists; radiologists, and pathologists. Together, this team of experts designs an individualized treatment plan for each patient.


We offer a number of clinical trials for rectal cancer. Currently, our physicians and researchers are participating in several national trials looking at early and locally advanced rectal cancers and the response to preoperative combined modality therapy and the timing of surgery. »View a list of some colorectal cancer clinical trials under way at the Comprehensive Cancer Center

Our team of physicians is also looking at the effectiveness and safety of cancer vaccines. Other research efforts are directed towards preventive measures using vitamins--such as vitamin D--or bile acids--such as ursodeoxycholic acid--specifically for colon and rectal cancer.