Colorectal Cancer
Cancer of the large intestine or colon, a part of the digestive system, and rectal cancers are often grouped together as colorectal cancer. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third-most common cancer in men and women. Survival rates for patients with colorectal cancer are improving, a result of enhanced screening methods and removal of suspicious polyps.

Colorectal cancer services are provided through the Mass General Cancer Center at Emerson Hospital – Bethke, which combines talented cancer specialists and state-of-the-art technology in a convenient, comfortable setting. The center provides the latest, highest-quality treatment close to home and family.

About the Mass General Cancer Center at Emerson Hospital – Bethke

Emerson Hospital offers top-notch, patient-oriented cancer care in a community setting: the expertise of highly-skilled oncology specialists, the latest technology, the ease of receiving treatment in the community and guaranteed easy access to your health care team. 

Diagnosis and Testing

A number of tests are used to diagnose colorectal cancer, including:

Fecal occult blood test

This simple test checks for blood in the stool. For men and women at average risk of colorectal cancer, this test should be given every year starting at age 50.

Fecal Immunochemical test

This is a more accurate stool test for occult blood.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy

Flexible sigmoidoscopy is an outpatient procedure in which a sigmoidoscope (a flexible instrument about ½” in diameter) is used to view the lining of the rectum and the lower third of the colon (called the sigmoid and descending colon). This test is usually done every five years and can be used in combination with the yearly fecal occult blood test.

Air contrast barium enema

Sometimes a doctor will use a test called air contrast barium enema. This X-ray test uses barium and air to examine the entire colon and rectum. Doctors typically recommend this test (sometimes in combination with flexible sigmoidoscopy) every 5–10 years, starting at age 50.


This is an outpatient procedure in which the rectum and the inside of the entire colon are examined. A doctor uses a colonoscope — a flexible instrument about ½” in diameter — to view the lining of the colon. This test is recommended every 10 years, starting at age 50.


This is a noninvasive colon cancer screening test based on advances in stool DNA science. It is for men and women 50 years of age and older who are at average risk for colon cancer.

Other Diagnostic Tools

If cancer is diagnosed, sophisticated methods of imaging can reduce the need for exploratory surgery and help cancer specialists develop individualized treatment plans for patients. The cancer center offers advanced diagnostic imaging services, including:
  • Bone scans
  • Computer-assisted tomography (CT)
  • CT Scan colonography (virtual colonoscopy)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Image-guided biopsies
  • Ultrasound
  • Specific tumor-seeking scans
  • PET/CT (positron emission tomography/computer-assisted tomography)

Imaging Accreditations

Emerson Hospital’s imaging services are:
  • Accredited by the American College of Radiology
  • Recognized by the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations
  • Approved and recommended by the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute
  • Licensed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Food and Drug Administration
  • Accredited by the American College of Radiology, Radiation Control Program (Mass Department of Public Health)
  • Accredited by the American College of Radiology for breast sonography

Treatment at the Cancer Center: Complete, convenient and personalized

The Mass General Cancer Center was created to bring outstanding cancer specialists and facilities to our community. The center provides advanced, quality treatment with compassion and care. They are committed to answer questions and discuss treatment options openly and honestly, and to provide support services. Treatment is based on a multidisciplinary approach to cancer care that emphasizes the coordination of many disciplines and services to form an organized team of professionals and support staff willing to go the distance for each individual patient and family.

Surgical Care

Surgery often plays a vital role in cancer diagnosis and treatment. The surgeons at Emerson’s Cancer Center have extensive experience treating colorectal cancers. From biopsies to cancer surgery to plastic and reconstructive surgery, Emerson’s surgeons are committed to performing the most minimally invasive procedures possible.

Medical Oncology

Emerson’s experienced medical oncologists specialize in the medical treatment of colorectal cancer. They help guide the diagnosis, treatment plan and overall care for patients. Medical oncologists prescribe chemotherapy and/or biotherapy for patients who require it. The cancer center’s medical oncologists have close working relationships with colleagues at Mass General Cancer Center in Boston. Emerson patients have access to the latest treatments available through cancer clinical trials.


Surgeons work closely with Emerson’s expert anesthesiologists, who provide clinical anesthesia services for patients. Available at the hospital 24 hours a day, anesthesiologists also consult on pain management for those with chronic pain.

Chemotherapy and Infusion Services

Chemotherapy is an important part of many cancer treatment plans. Advances in chemotherapy treatment are making this therapy more precise and targeted. The cancer center’s outpatient chemotherapy infusion suite offers the most advanced therapy in a new, state-of-the-art facility staffed by medical oncologists and specially trained oncology nurses. In addition, patients admitted to Emerson Hospital have access to the Naka Infusion Center, which provides a suite dedicated to infusion therapies designed with patient safety, comfort and privacy in mind. Family members or friends are welcome to accompany patients during treatment.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is an invaluable cancer-fighting therapy and is usually given once a day over many weeks, so convenience and ease-of-access to the treatment facility is critical. The Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Radiation Oncology at Emerson Hospital provides all of this. The joint program includes the most up-to-date and highly accurate treatment and planning technologies available at the major downtown hospitals in one convenient location — at the cancer center in Concord, Mass. Recent advances in radiation treatment which are available to Emerson patients include:
  • 3-D Conformal Radiation Therapy: CT-scan guided treatment planning, which enables the physicians to pinpoint the precise tumor location using an on-site CT scan.
  • Intensity-Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT) so the physicians and physicists can "sculpt" radiation beams around the tumor — thus avoiding unnecessary radiation to normal tissues and structures.
  • Image-Guided Radiation Therapy: Imaging tools within the linear accelerator (treatment machine) that enable precise re-positioning of the patient from one treatment session to the next.


Today, cancer treatment is tailored to each patient’s tumor. Pathologists play an important role in diagnosing cancer and identifying attributes about each tumor that help oncologists design the most effective treatment plan. Emerson’s pathologists have access to the most cutting-edge molecular tests available to aid in accurate diagnosis.

Genetic Testing and Counseling

Several types of cancer are known to have a genetic component. Emerson provides genetic screening and counseling for patients who want to know their cancer risks.

The ability to perform genetic testing to determine if a patient carries a known cancer gene is a significant breakthrough in cancer management. Patients at genetic risk for cancer can take steps to prevent cancers from occurring, or increase screenings to make sure they are found at the earliest, most treatable stages. Understanding the genetic causes of cancer is also leading to the development of customized, targeted cancer therapies. As more cancer genes are identified, more patients will benefit. Genetic testing also makes it possible to analyze a tumor’s DNA in order to determine whether or not a patient is at high or low risk for recurrence. Patients at low risk for recurrence may not require chemotherapy.

The goal of cancer genetics counseling is to assist patients who wish to understand the role genetics plays in their cancer diagnosis, as well as the potential risk for family members. For more information, please call 978-287-3436.

Clinical Trials

Over the past 15 years, clinical trials have been an important part of the comprehensive cancer program at the cancer center. The decision to take part in a clinical trial is very personal. You should talk to your physician and consider the risks and benefits of a study before agreeing to participate..

Integrative Therapies

Integrative therapies, also known as complementary therapies, can be very effective in addressing nausea, pain and fatigue and in bolstering the immune system. Emerson patients who are interested in combining acupuncture, yoga, reiki, herbs or other integrative therapies with their cancer treatment are encouraged to speak with their physician, who can make a referral, including to a certified, on-site acupuncturist.

Support Services and Groups

The Clough Family Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies helps patients with physical, occupational and speech therapy needs during and after treatment. An enterostomal nurse specialist is available as needed. Emerson’s home care department has specialists who assist with support services that may be needed in the home, and care coordination if a hospice referral is desired. Emerson’s social work department provides specialists who help to coordinate and integrate support services at any time from initial diagnosis, through treatment and after. Practitioners from all of the support services work collaboratively with our medical oncology teams to provide the best of care. The cancer center is dedicated to its patients and continues to provide care and support after completion of active treatment through survivorship programs.

Emerson Hospital offers support groups through an affiliation with the Virginia Thurston Healing Garden in Harvard, Mass. Please call 978-456-3532 for more information. A twice a month caregiver support group meets at Emerson Hospital open to loved ones of those with a diagnosis of cancer. For more information, please contact the MGH Cancer Center at Emerson Hospital – Bethke social worker at 978-287-3428

Emerson also offers a wide range of community health and wellness programs and classes that can help participants learn about cancer prevention and early diagnosis strategies or help those with cancer, their caregivers or family manage the stress associated with the illness. A variety of stress reduction programs use approaches including mindfulness training, yoga and meditation, tai chi, reiki and qigong. Another program teaches those who have completed cancer treatment nutrition strategies for preventing cancer recurrence.

Emerson’s Lund Community Health Library offers information that can help individuals understand and cope with the diagnosis of a medical condition and learn about the latest treatment methods.


The Mass General Cancer Center at Emerson Hospital – Bethke brings together specialists from Emerson Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital to provide the latest, highest-quality cancer treatment close to home and family. Through partnerships with the American Cancer Society, and many regional and national cancer support organizations, the cancer center brings support programs, education, transportation and resources to patients and their families.


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