New Colon Cancer Diagnosis - What to Expect

A new diagnosis of colon cancer can be overwhelming.

In this video, we break down colon cancer information into three (3) simple categories: Diagnosis, Staging, and Treatment.

Read the full video transcript below:

A new diagnosis of colon cancer can be confusing and overwhelming, but sometimes it's helpful for patients to organize their thoughts by splitting up colon cancer facts into three simple categories: diagnosis, staging, and treatment.

First, a diagnosis of colon cancer is usually made after some very characteristic symptoms. Many patients experience changes in their bowel habits. Sometimes this means loose stool or changes in the frequency of bowel movements. Other times, patients will experience changes in the caliber of their stool or narrower, characteristically pencil-thin stools or even blood in the stool.

Sometimes patients experience weight loss which was unintentional. If you have these findings and talk to your doctor, sometimes they will recommend a colonoscopy.

During a colonoscopy, a tube with a camera on the end is inserted into the rectum and colon to look for cancers. If a suspicious tumor is found, it is biopsied. After biopsy, the tissue is sent to the lab for special pathologic testing to determine the exact type of cancer and any particular mutations which may make it susceptible to newer cancer treatments. 

After a diagnosis of colon cancer is established, the next step in management is staging. All patients with a new diagnosis of colon cancer get basic blood work to determine whether or not the cancer is affecting other organ systems in the body. 

Next, patients get a CAT scan of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis to determine whether or not the cancer has spread to other organs in the body.

Not always, but sometimes your doctor will also get an MRI to further evaluate the extent of disease in the belly. For younger patients interested in childbearing after treatment, fertility counseling is also done at this point. 

Once doctors have established the diagnosis and the stage, the next step in management is selecting the most appropriate treatment. The main treatment for patients with a new diagnosis of colon cancer is surgery. Surgeons remove the part of the colon involved, as well as a wide margin around it in a procedure called a colectomy. Lymph nodes in the area are also identified, and the entire block of tissue, including the colon and the lymph nodes, are removed.

The cut ends of the colon are sewn back together. Patients with more advanced disease involving lymph nodes or very large tumors also require chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can be given either before surgery or, more commonly, after surgery. 

This is not medical advice. Talk to your doctor before making any medical decisions.