New Rectal Cancer Diagnosis - What to Expect

For patients and families dealing with a new diagnosis of rectal cancer, the process can be overwhelming.  

Simplifying the process into three (3) simple steps can help clarify your thoughts: Diagnosis, Staging, and Treatment.

Read the full video transcript below:

A new diagnosis of rectal cancer can be overwhelming, but the whole process can be simplified into three simple steps: diagnosis, staging, and treatment. 

Rectal cancers are typically identified by colonoscopy. Sometimes this happens on a screening colonoscopy, but sometimes it happens because patients have symptoms like weight loss, rectal bleeding, or changes in bowel habits.

If there's a tumor or a mass seen on colonoscopy, then a biopsy is performed. The biopsy specimen is sent to the lab for advanced testing, including genetic testing like MMR or MSI. A pathologist is a doctor who works in a laboratory who analyzes tissue from a biopsy and establishes a diagnosis of cancer.

The next step after establishing a diagnosis of cancer is staging. Blood work is required to see whether or not the cancer may be affecting other organs and to assess the extent to which any bleeding caused anemia. A CAT scan of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis is done to evaluate whether or not the tumor has spread to other organs, like the liver or lungs. 

An MRI of the pelvis is done to determine whether or not the cancer has spread to lymph nodes, as well as to see the exact size and location of the cancer. All of this information about the diagnosis and staging is put together to formulate a treatment plan.

Surgical removal of cancer is the primary mode of treatment for rectal cancer. For more advanced disease, chemotherapy as well as radiation play a role. Typically, chemotherapy and radiation are given before surgery for rectal cancer. 

Patients who have metastatic disease, or disease that has spread from the rectum into other organs like the liver or lungs, start off with chemotherapy. 

This is not medical advice. Talk to your doctor before making a medical decision.