Your next steps after a colon cancer diagnosis

Cancer Gastroenterology General Surgery
Black female doctor showing digital tablet to patient

Receiving a colon cancer diagnosis begins an uncharted journey for you and your loved ones as you navigate the next steps in your life. While the news likely comes as a shock to you, our experienced cancer care team is already in place, making plans to help you fight the disease.

After skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates about 148,000 new cases of colon and rectal cancer will be diagnosed this year in the U.S.

“Our team of specialists guides the care of more than 200 colorectal cancer patients each year,” says George Kannarkat, M.D., a Riverside Health System oncologist. “Our advanced technology and highly skilled providers will work with you to create a personalized treatment plan that fits your lifestyle.”

Care begins with cancer staging

A colonoscopy is the gold standard used to detect colon cancer. During a colonoscopy, your doctor will remove polyps, abnormal growths in the colon that can become cancerous. 

If biopsy results show cancer, the next step would be imaging tests for diagnosing cancer. Imaging tests check whether the cancer has spread to any organ or lymph nodes.

With all of this information, doctors will then determine the stage of the cancer:

Stage I – Tumor is in the wall of the colon and has grown only into the inner surface of the colon wall. 
Stage II – Tumor has grown through the muscle layer in the wall of the colon.
Stage III – Cancer has spread to regional lymph nodes in the abdomen around the colon.
Stage IV – Cancer has spread to other parts of the body (soft tissue organs like liver or lung, distant lymph nodes, or bones).

Next steps after staging

Often for stage I, II or III colon cancers, the exact stage is determined after surgery to remove the cancer. After the cancer stage is determined, your care team will discuss their recommended treatment plan.

Colorectal cancer treatments can include:

  • Chemotherapy – Intravenous or oral drugs that try to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.
  • Immunotherapy – Medications using the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
  • Radiation therapy – Particle energy that is focused towards one part of the body to try to kill cancer cells that are dividing faster than normal living cells.
  • Radiofrequency ablation – High-energy radio waves delivered from the tip of a specialized needle to kill tumors.
  • Surgery – To remove cancer that has spread, a surgeon may have to remove part or all of the colon and nearby lymph nodes.
  • Targeted therapy – Drugs specifically targeted to kill colon cancer cells because they have a specific gene mutation.

Riverside also participates in many cancer clinical trials to test emerging therapies. Your oncologist can discuss any trials that may benefit your care.

“Once your treatment plan is determined, you will know better what to expect,” Dr. Kannarkat says. “That can help you plan if you’ll need to take time away from work or make other arrangements to focus on your treatment and recovery. We also encourage you to talk to friends and family to expand your circle of support.”

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