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Gastrointestinal Cancers

Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Johnston-Willis Hospital

Gastrointestinal and Colorectal Cancer

Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Johnston-Willis Hospital is committed to providing comprehensive gastrointestinal and colorectal cancer care south of the James River in Richmond, Virginia.

From understanding your diagnosis and nutritional needs to learning about Sarah Cannon clinical trials and transitioning into survivorship, we’re there for you all along the way.

Complete Gastrointestinal Cancer Support

The more you know, the better your outcome can be. That's why we integrate education and support throughout our program of care. You benefit from our broad range of services, including:

  • Dietitians who can address your changing nutritional needs as you recover from surgery and pursue follow-up treatments
  • A gastrointestinal cancer nurse navigator assists with all aspects of your care, from diagnosis through treatment, recovery and beyond.
  • Rehabilitation services to help you improve your quality of life.
  • The Hawthorne Cancer Resource Center, which provides educational materials and a resource library.
  • Support groups to guide you from diagnosis through treatment, recovery and life after cancer.

Gastrointestinal Cancer Support Group

We’re proud to offer the only gastrointestinal cancer support group in Central Virginia. The group meets from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month at Johnston-Willis Hospital. This group is open to patients, family members and caregivers to act as a forum to share experiences and information and provide each other with support.

No advance registration is required, and meetings are free to attend. For more information, please contact the gastrointestinal cancer nurse navigator at (804) 483-5071.

About Gastrointestinal Cancer

Gastrointestinal cancers, also called GI cancers, affect the organs in your body that are part of the digestive system. Types of GI cancer include esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, cancers of the small or large intestine, cancers of the liver and bile ducts, neuroendocrine cancer, colorectal cancer, and anal cancer.

Treatment for these types of cancers can vary. At Johnston-Willis, you will receive an individualized care plan for your specific type of cancer.

Our expert physicians provide advanced gastrointestinal cancer testing for diagnosis. Common GI cancer diagnostic tests include:

  • Colonoscopy
  • Endoscopy
  • Blood tests
  • Molecular or genetic testing
  • Endoscopic ultrasounds
  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • PET scan
  • X-ray

It's important to remember that there are many types of gastrointestinal cancers, and the screening and diagnosis process can vary greatly.

Typically, doctors diagnose GI cancers after patients have symptoms that lead to a doctor visit. Based on your symptoms, your doctor will order tests such as imaging studies and bloodwork. Additional tests to confirm the presence, stage and/or spread of GI cancer may include:

  • Biopsy
  • Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Endoscopic ultrasound with fine needle aspiration biopsy
  • CT scan
  • CT/PET scan
  • MRI
  • Additional blood tests

The physical exam, combined with all of your test results, will help determine the type and stage of cancer. Doctors use staging to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, GI cancer is staged from stage I through stage IV. Stage I is a very localized cancer while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body.

Because of the complexity of gastrointestinal cancer, Johnston-Willis has a group of expert physicians (part of the multi-disciplinary care team) who meet weekly to review each case of colon, rectal, esophageal, pancreatic and stomach cancer and develop a comprehensive care plan for the individual patient.

This meeting is designed to provide care that goes beyond just diagnosis and treatment. During meetings, physicians discuss individual patient management, review findings and recommend therapies.

Members of this multi-disciplinary care team may include:

  • Gastroenterologist
  • General surgeon
  • Radiologist
  • Pathologist
  • Medical oncologist
  • Radiation oncologist
  • Oncology dietician
  • Oncology nurse navigator

About Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women according to the American Cancer Society. With a risk of 1 in 21 for men and 1 in 23 for women, it's important that we provide advanced diagnostics and treatment for colon and rectal cancer as well as help prevent these cancers through screening.

Fortunately, colonoscopy is an effective tool for preventing and diagnosing colon and rectal cancer.

Regular screening can detect colorectal cancer early — when treatment is most effective — by finding and removing polyps before they become cancerous.

If cancer is present, earlier detection means a chance for a cure and longer life. More than 90 percent of people diagnosed with early stage colorectal cancer survive more than five years.

Are you at risk for colon cancer?

  • Are you more than 50 years old?
  • Have you ever had ulcerative colon or Crohn’s disease?
  • Has anyone in your family had colon cancer or colon polyps?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Have you or anyone in your family ever had uterine, ovarian or inherited breast cancer?
  • Are you physically inactive?
  • Is your diet high in red meat and fat?

If you answered “yes” to the first question and “no” to the others, you have an average risk for colon cancer. If you answered “yes” to the first plus any of the other questions, you have an increased risk for colon cancer.

Everyone older than 50 should be screened for colorectal cancer.

Doctors at Johnston-Willis diagnose colorectal cancer by checking the rectum for lumps or abnormal areas and recommending different tests in order to identify tumors and confirm a diagnosis. Tests used to identify potential colon cancers include:

  • Fecal occult blood test
  • Colonoscopy
  • Sigmoidoscopy
  • Barium enema
  • CT colonography

The following additional tests may confirm the presence of colon cancer, determine what stage the cancer is in, and/or determine if the cancer has spread:

  • Biopsy
  • Polypectomy
  • CT scan
  • PET scan
  • Transrectal ultrasound
  • Blood tests

The physical exam, combined with all of your test results, will help determine the type and stage of cancer. Doctors use staging to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, colon cancer is staged from stage I through stage IV. Stage I is a very localized cancer while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body.

The goal of treatment is to remove as much of the cancer as possible while preserving colon and/or rectal tissue and function. Additional treatment may help prevent the spread or recurrence of cancer.

Your treatment plan will often include a combination of approaches, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and medication. The type of treatment is based on the characteristics of the cancer and your age, general health, and prognosis.

At Johnston-Willis, your treatment is provided by an experienced multi-disciplinary team.

The following specialists will be part of your care team:

  • Gastroenterologist
  • Colorectal surgeon
  • Radiologist
  • Pathologist
  • Medical oncologist
  • Radiation oncologist
  • Oncology dietician
  • Oncology nurse navigator

Gastrointestinal Cancer Nurse Navigator

An oncology nurse navigator offers clinical expertise, guidance and support to improve your cancer care experience.

Heather A. Hannon, ANP-BC, CBCN
Gastrointestinal Cancer Nurse Navigator
Email: Heather.Hannon@HCAHealthcare.com
Phone: (804) 483-5071

Heather is a board-certified nurse practitioner with an extensive background in oncology nursing, including experience in medical oncology, pain management/palliative care, cancer genetics, women’s cancers and GI oncology (especially complex GI cancers). Heather especially values the opportunity to support cancer patients across the continuum. As your nurse navigator, Heather serves as your point person throughout your entire cancer journey. Heather will work closely with your health care team to ensure that everyone is up to speed and on the same page regarding your care. Heather is committed to providing you and your family with valuable information and education in a manner that is easy to understand, with the goal that you have a complete understanding of your diagnosis, your treatment options and plan, and recommendations for follow-up care.

Meet Heather