Colon Cancer

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Your SCCA Diagnostic Work-up

To fully understand your cancer and recommend a treatment plan, your Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) colorectal cancer team will review your referring doctor’s findings (initial diagnosis) and may order one or more additional tests.

Common Tests

These are the tests you might have, but you may not need them all.

  • A repeat colonoscopy—Your SCCA care team may want to repeat this procedure, if your previous colonoscopy was incomplete.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan—A CT machine uses X-rays to take pictures of your body from many angles. Then a computer combines these pictures and displays detailed side-to-side slices (cross-sectional images). A CT scan can help show whether your cancer has spread to your liver or other organs.
  • Position emission tomography (PET) scan—For a PET scan, a small amount of sugar (glucose) with a radioactive atom is injected into your arm. Cancer cells tend to absorb more of this radioactive sugar than healthy cells do. Next you lie in a PET machine, and a special camera scans your body. The camera detects radioactivity, so it helps your team find places in your body where cancer may have spread.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan—An MRI machine sends radio waves toward your body. Your body absorbs energy from the waves and then releases the energy in a certain pattern. A computer translates this pattern into a detailed image of your body. The MRI shows cross-sectional slices (like a CT scan) and lengthwise slices as well.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound—Ultrasound uses sound waves and their echoes to produce a picture of internal organs and masses. Endoscopic ultrasound helps your doctors look just beyond the outer surface of your digestive tract to see if your cancer has reached any structures in the area.
  • Bone scan—A bone scan looks for abnormalities in your bones. It can focus on a particular joint or bone, but for cancer diagnosis the whole body is usually scanned. A small amount of a radioactive substance called radionuclide is injected into your bloodstream. A special camera detects any spots where radioactivity collects in your bones. These areas are called “hot spots” and can indicate bone cancer or a number of other conditions, such as arthritis.
  • Blood tests—Your doctor may order some blood tests. One is a blood count to see if you have a low number of red blood cells (anemia), which can be caused by ongoing bleeding in the colon or rectum. Another test measures your liver function to determine if your cancer has spread to that organ.

After Diagnosis

If you or someone you know has recently been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, here are some thoughts to consider.

  • Don’t rush into a decision about treatment. Unless your doctor tells you that your situation is urgent, take a little time to do some research and get a second opinion if you want one. Then carefully consider your options. Talk with your doctor about how long you can safely wait before having surgery or beginning treatment.
  • Inform yourself. You will find a number of resources on the Web, including on this Web site. You may want to read about treatment options and the doctors and other medical professionals who will care for you. You may hear a lot about diseases and treatments on the news and from friends and relatives. Remember, all colon and rectal cancers are not the same. The treatment a friend or relative had may not be right for you.
  • Colorectal cancer is highly treatable. If found early, there is a 90 percent cure rate.
  • Take care of yourself. Exercise and a healthy diet are especially important now. Ongoing support and self-care can make a huge difference in how you feel and your quality of life during your treatment. You may want to join a support group or talk to a social worker or nutritionist.
  • Ask someone you trust to go with you to doctors appointments and tests. This person can provide emotional support and help by taking notes and doing research on your disease and treatment options. Keep all your information in a notebook. Be sure there is a section for questions and concerns for your cancer care team.
  • Get help with insurance. If you are concerned about whether your health insurance will cover treatment at SCCA, read about insurance.