A new diagnosis of colon cancer – what is next?

cancer diagnosis.fwThere are several paths that can lead patients to a diagnosis of colon cancer. You may have had symptoms that worried you, such as finding blood on your toilet paper. Or perhaps the doctor removed suspicious polyps during a routine colonoscopy. Either way, hearing that you have a diagnosis of colon cancer can be a shock, making it hard to process what the next steps might be or what decisions must be made. These tips can help you prepare for your first appointments with cancer specialists and understand what is going to happen over the next months:

After the colon cancer is staged, your cancer care team will discuss treatment options with you. Staging is the process of finding out how much cancer there is in a person’s body and where it is located. According to the American Cancer Society, the main types of treatment that can be used for colon (and rectal) cancers are: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy.


  • Polypectomy:  A polyp is extra growth of tissue from the epithelium of the colon wall. This type of surgery is used for people with a small tumor in a polyp. The polyp is removed.
  • Colectomy:  If the cancer has grown beyond the polyp, a colectomy is done to remove the part of the colon with cancer. This may be done with either an open or a laparoscopic method.
  • Lymph Node Surgery:  The surgery to remove lymph nodes is called a lymphectomy. A lymphectomy is often done during a colectomy. A minimum of 12 nearby lymph nodes should be removed and tested. All abnormal looking nodes should be removed too.

Radiation therapy

This treatment uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is mainly used in people with colon cancer when the cancer has attached to an internal organ or the lining of the abdomen. When this occurs, the surgeon cannot be certain that all the cancer has been removed, and radiation therapy may be used to try to kill any cancer cells that may be left behind after surgery.

Radiation therapy is also used to treat colon cancer that has spread, most often if the spread is to the bones or brain.


Colon cancer is able to spread beyond the colon to other parts of the body. Doctors use drugs to treat cancer cells that have spread through the body. Chemotherapy stops cancer cells from making new cells. Chemotherapy can be given in different ways:

  • Systemic:  Drugs are injected into the vein or taken by mouth.
  • Regional:  Drugs are injected directly into an artery leading a part of the containing the tumor.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapies are drugs that attack the parts of cancer cells that make them different from normal

Clinical trials

Clinical trials are research studies that are done with patients who volunteer for them. The purpose of a clinical trial is to find out if the new or current treatment is better at fighting cancer.

Suggested questions to ask your doctor:

  1. What stage and type of colon cancer do I have?
  2. What are the available treatments for my colon cancer?
  3. What are the risks and benefits of the recommended treatment for my colon cancer?
  4. Do I have to get treated?
  5. How soon should I start treatment?
  6. How long does this treatment last?
  7. How much experience do you have treating this type of cancer?
  8. When will I be able to return to work and my normal activities?

Take the next step:

  • Call the Cancer AnswerLine™ at 800-865-1125 to speak to a cancer nurse if you have more questions about treatment for colon cancer.
  • Read about colon and rectal surgery at U-M.
  • Download the colon cancer guidelines from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

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2013 annette 1The Cancer AnswerLine™ nurses are experienced in oncology care, including helping patients and their families who have questions about cancer. These registered oncology nurses are available by calling 800-865-1125 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Your call is always free and confidential.



Cancer center-informal-vertical-sigThe University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan for cancer patient care. Seventeen multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.