You’ve been diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer. Now What?
If you've recently been diagnosed with colon cancer or rectal cancer (collectively known as colorectal cancer), you're probably full of questions starting with, "Now what?" Read on for answers to some of those questions and guidance to help you determine your next course of action.
How fast should I make decisions?
It’s important to make good decisions without delay. With colon and rectal cancers, it’s important to act fast but not so fast that you miss opportunities to listen to the physician's recommended cancer treatment plan and consider any questions you may have. The first step is typically scheduling an appointment with a colorectal cancer specialist at an oncology office convenient to you. Our cancer treatment centers are located in and around Northern Arizona (Flagstaff and Prescott Valley), Phoenix (Arrowhead, Chandler, Deer Valley, East Valley, Gilbert, Glendale, Goodyear, Mesa, Scottsdale and Tempe), and Southern Arizona (Green Valley and Tucson).
What kind of doctor should I see first?
To help make decisions about your colorectal cancer treatment, it’s helpful to consult with a medical oncologist first. As a cancer specialist, they will be up-to-date on the best way to manage your cancer depending on the location of the colon or rectal cancer, size of the tumor and if it’s spread to other areas of the body. They are often the lead physician over managing your cancer treatment process. Many times, new patients seek a colorectal surgeon first, which is not always the best first step in treating cancer.
Spending time with a medical oncologist will allow him or her to develop a plan that would be best for your situation. They also have the benefit of consulting with a multidisciplinary team of other cancer specialists who specialize in various types of colorectal cancer treatments including surgery, radiation therapy, and others.
During your appointments with your cancer care team, there will be many details discussed about your cancer treatment plan, and it can be overwhelming. It can be hard to remember all the important details that you may want or need to know, and often times it would be beneficial to be able to refer back to these details, especially for your first few doctor's appointments.
We suggest being organized from the start by using a notebook to keep a record. Write down important information, such as how you’re feeling and any medicines or supplements you’re taking. Also, write down your questions and thoughts before you go in for your appointments. This is the place to take notes about answers to your questions that you receive during your appointments. Make sure to put a date on everything you write down. Often, when information is put on paper you can put your mind at ease, allowing you to focus thoughts elsewhere.
We suggest you bring a family member or friend with you to appointments to help take notes, ask questions, and be an emotional support.
Questions to ask?
A colorectal cancer diagnosis will raise some questions, from both you and your loved ones. Be sure to use your note-taking system that we discussed above on questions as they arise. We’ve included a helpful list of basic questions to ask your oncologist below:
- Is it colon cancer or rectal cancer?
- Will I need more tests?
- Will I need a colostomy bag? Will it be permanent?
- Do I need to change my diet?
- What are the treatment options for my colon or rectal cancer?
- Does my colorectal cancer treatment plan include surgery?
- Will cancer treatment affect my daily life?
- What are the side effects of my treatment options?
- Do my siblings or children have an increased risk of colon or rectal cancer?
- Should I exercise during chemotherapy or radiation treatments?
- Will I need to see other medical specialists as part of treatment?
Should I get a second opinion?
A colorectal cancer diagnosis is serious, and treatment for this cancer is intensive. If you have any doubts whatsoever about the treatment of your colon or rectal cancer, you should absolutely get a second opinion to put your mind at ease. If you've been diagnosed by another physician, our Arizona Oncology cancer specialists are ready to provide you with a second opinion about your cancer diagnosis. However, don’t take too much time getting multiple opinions as this can delay treatment.
You should always check with your insurance provider to check your coverage of second opinions before making an appointment. To schedule a second opinion appointment with one of our physicians, please choose a location that is convenient for you and call our office to make an appointment.
Will My Insurance Company Cover my Cancer Treatments?
Cancer treatment is expensive, but we do accept most major insurance plans. After a colon cancer or rectal cancer diagnosis, you should request a full description of your medical benefits from your insurance provider. Arizona Oncology's patient benefits representatives are available to meet with you to discuss your medical insurance coverage in regards to your cancer treatment.
Are there Support Groups?
We know this is a difficult time, but you can do this, and Arizona Oncology and our team of oncologists and cancer care specialists are ready to help you every step of the way. We’re here to answer questions and connect you with the resources you need. Visit our Helpful Resources page for more information.
For your convenience, Arizona Oncology cancer treatment centers are located in Northern Arizona, Phoenix, and Southern Arizona.
Do I Need Genetic Testing?
Most colon cancers are sporadic, which means that they just happen by chance, but 5-10% of the time, colon cancer is due to an inherited cause. If you have more than 10 total colon polyps, were diagnosed with colon cancer prior to age 50, or have multiple family members with colon, uterine, stomach and/or ovarian cancer, you should ask your doctor about genetic counseling and testing. In addition, after a diagnosis of colon cancer at any age, your tumor is automatically screened for Lynch syndrome in the pathology lab. Lynch syndrome is the most common hereditary cause of colon cancer. If your Lynch screen comes back abnormal, which would be reported on your pathology report, this does not mean that you have Lynch syndrome, but your doctor will refer you for genetic counseling and additional testing. Find out more about genetic risk assessments at Arizona Oncology.