Colon Cancer Surgery

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Surgeon Martin Weiser walks into operating room

MSK’s surgeons, such as Martin Weiser, have performed a high number of procedures and are experts in both traditional and minimally invasive techniques.

7 Questions to Ask before Colon Cancer Surgery

Learn about questions that are helpful to ask your surgeon before colon cancer surgery.
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Surgery is the most common treatment for colon cancer. If you or someone you care about has colon cancer, we want to help you understand surgical options to get the best outcome possible. This information is meant to help prepare you for the decisions you and your doctors will make together. 

The type of procedure depends on how advanced the disease is, where it is located, your overall health, and other factors. Surgeons may be able to use minimally invasive approaches. These include laparoscopic and robotic surgery. Surgery may sometimes be used along with other therapies.

Learn more about the types of surgery for colon cancer.

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How is a colonoscopy used to treat colon cancer?

When colon cancer is found early, the tumor is often fully contained within an abnormal growth on the inside lining of the colon. This is called a polyp. Removing a polyp during a colonoscopy may be enough to cure the cancer.

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What is a segmental colectomy?

If the colon cancer has begun to spread through the colon, you may need more-extensive surgery. If so, your surgeon can do a segmental colectomy. This procedure removes several inches of your colon, including the part that contains the tumor.

Your surgeon also removes nearby lymph nodes where the cancer might have spread. In most cases, your surgeon can reconnect your colon.

Most people recover from a segmental colectomy quite well. Bowel function usually returns to normal in just a few months.

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What is minimally invasive surgery for colon cancer?

Traditional surgery is often called open surgery. It usually involves a single incision (cut) that is large enough so that a surgeon can operate using their hands. In minimally invasive surgery, a much smaller incision, or a series of incisions, is made. A small metal tube is inserted through the small incisions. Special instruments inside the tube are used to perform the surgery. Minimally invasive surgery is usually called either laparoscopic or robot assisted.

The goal of minimally invasive surgery is to decrease pain and bleeding and to speed recovery by eliminating the need for a large incision. This may mean fewer days in the hospital and fewer complications.

Long-term results are generally similar for people who have either open surgery or minimally invasive surgery.

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What is laparoscopy for colon cancer?

Laparoscopy is a type of minimally invasive surgery. During a laparoscopy, a surgeon uses a thin tube with a light and video camera at its tip. This tool is called a laparoscope. It is inserted through a small cut in the abdominal wall that allows the surgeon to operate using special instruments.

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What is robot-assisted minimally invasive surgery for colon cancer?

This type of surgery began around 2002. Doctors at MSK helped pioneer its use for colon and rectal surgery. Special instruments are inserted through keyhole-size cuts in the abdominal wall. The surgeon sits at a computer and uses controls to move robotic arms that precisely operate the surgical tools. A high-definition visual system helps the surgeon see more clearly by magnifying the operation.

MSK’s surgeons perform more robot-assisted minimally invasive procedures for colon cancer than doctors at any other institution in the country. You and your doctor will decide together if it’s the best option for your treatment.

Robot-Assisted Surgery at MSK Helps a Growing Number of Patients

MSK performs the highest number of robot-assisted surgeries in the United States, enabling more patients to have a shorter hospital stay and a faster recovery.
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What is a colostomy, and will I need one after colon cancer surgery?

A colostomy is when the colon is cut to remove the cancer and the top end of the colon is attached to an opening made in the skin of the belly. Waste comes out of this opening and is held in a bag stuck to the skin.

After the shock of a colon cancer diagnosis, one of the first concerns that many people have is whether they will need to use a colostomy bag.

Depending on the stage and location of the cancer, most people with colon cancer do not need a colostomy. If you do, it is usually reversed after a short time. After the two ends of the colon are surgically reconnected, you can go back to your normal bathroom habits.

For a few people, a colostomy bag may need to be permanent. It’s natural to feel anxious about this adjustment. However, many people report that a colostomy impacts their quality of life less than they feared.

If you need a colostomy, a specially trained nurse will help you get used to it as smoothly as possible.

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What if colon cancer has spread to other organs?

If you have colon cancer that has spread (metastasized) to other organs, surgery may be an option, often in combination with other treatments.

Learn more about treatment for metastatic colon cancer.

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Why should I choose Memorial Sloan Kettering for colon cancer surgery?

Research shows that surgeons at centers where a high number of procedures are performed produce the best results for their patients. MSK’s surgeons are among the most experienced in the world at removing colon cancer.

MSK is recognized around the world as a leader in treating colon cancer. Each year we care for more than 1,200 people with colon and rectal cancer, restoring people to health after every kind of colon cancer, including the rarest cases. We will tailor a treatment plan specifically for you.

Many of the most advanced surgical techniques developed recently were first studied and used by MSK’s colon cancer team. The people we care for also have access to clinical trials with new treatment options that may not be available at other hospitals.

We believe you should choose MSK because we offer:

  • Compassionate care from a team of more than 70 colorectal care specialists. Our surgeons work with experts from diverse fields, including chemotherapy, radiology, and pathology. Many of them are nationally or internationally recognized.
  • The most-advanced colon cancer treatments, including minimally invasive surgeries, which use smaller incisions than traditional surgeries. MSK’s surgeons are particularly skilled at methods that use a robotic system to provide greater precision and enhanced visibility. MSK doctors perform more of these kinds of surgeries than doctors at any other institution in the country. This gives us a high level of expertise that reduces recovery time and leads to fewer complications. We are also leaders in treating colon and rectal cancer with no surgery when possible.
  • A commitment to your quality of life. Our specialists take every measure to preserve your ability to use the bathroom normally as well as your sexual health. We can help you not just survive but thrive.
  • The first clinic in the world for people with colon cancer under 50. The Center for Young Onset Colorectal Cancer was created to address a troubling rise in colon cancer among people as young as their 20s and 30s. The specialists at the center help younger patients with the specific challenges they face while advancing research into the causes of this disturbing new trend.
  • Personalized screening and monitoring after treatment. This includes our Hereditary Colorectal Cancer Family Registry for families who are affected by genetic colon cancer syndromes and may be at an elevated risk.
  • A dedication to giving you the best outcome possible and ensuring you are happy with your care. We track patient satisfaction and use your feedback to continually improve.
  • Great flexibility in how and where to receive treatment. Our specialists are conveniently located in Manhattan and at our regional outpatient locations in New Jersey, on Long Island, and in Westchester County. This provides our patients with the same outstanding care from MSK doctors closer to home.
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What kind of support will I get after colon cancer surgery at MSK?

Our specialists provide comprehensive follow-up care to help you live well after colon cancer treatment. Our service includes:

  • a team of experts to oversee all aspects of your recovery, including colon cancer specialists, psychologists, and social workers
  • care from a nurse practitioner who specializes in colon cancer survivorship and will monitor your health and help you if you experience any long-term effects
  • a personalized survivorship care plan with the medical guidance you’ll need to transition to a healthy life after colon cancer treatment
  • wellness therapies from integrative medicine specialists if you need help relieving emotional or physical symptoms after treatment
  • rehabilitation and exercise therapies to help you heal and recover your strength, flexibility, and stamina
  • emotional support at our Counseling Center
  • our patient-to-patient support program, which connects you with other colon cancer survivors who understand your challenges and concerns
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