18 Sep Dr. Harb talks about what happens after someone is diagnosed with colon cancer
As a colon and rectal surgeon, one of the common issues that I see is colon cancer. Patients are taken quite off guard when they are diagnosed with colon cancer. So, I thought that it might be helpful to talk about what happens after someone is diagnosed with colon cancer (rectal cancer is different from colon cancer and I’ll talk about that in another post).
Everyone needs a colonoscopy, and for people who don’t have a family history of colon or rectal cancer, that should be done at age 50. That’s because the most common symptom of colorectal cancer is . . . nothing! Of those diagnosed with colorectal cancer 70% don’t have any symptoms. Many tell me that they haven’t noticed any changes: no pain, no bleeding, and no changes in their bowel habits. So, many of my patients are shocked to be diagnosed with cancer. It’s a life-changing event.
Once someone comes to see me for colon cancer, one of the first things I talk about is their family history. Although most people don’t have a family history of colon or rectal cancer, there are some inherited reasons for people to develop colon cancer. Inherited colorectal cancer is a passion of mine. I lecture frequently about Lynch syndrome, which is the most common form of inherited colon cancer. I’ve been on the board of Lynch Syndrome International for several years now. But, we’ll talk more about that later.
Many times, I will have a special x-ray, called a CT scan (or CAT scan) done for patients with colon cancer. I’m often able to see the cancer. And, the CT scan tells me about other areas near the colon. It’s helpful in planning the type of procedure that will be done. I look at the pictures and go over them with my team at The Colorectal Center.
Some blood work is also done prior to surgery for colon cancer. This includes not only a routine blood count (some patients will have a low blood count, which might need to be addressed before surgery). Additionally, a specific colon cancer blood test, called a CEA is also ordered.
After I’ve reviewed the CT scan and gone over the colonoscopy report with my team, I will review these with the patient and come up with a plan. The only way to cure colon cancer is with surgery. I’ll decide what is the best way to approach the cancer. It may be robotically, or laparoscopically, or with an open approach. There are many factors that go into deciding which approach is best for which patient and that is truly an individualized decision.
Much of what I do requires putting people at ease after they have had a life-changing diagnosis. I’ve dealt with colon cancer in my family and that helps me deal with it in my patients. I hope this post helps someone out there deal with it as well. I’ve talked in other posts about what to expect after surgery for colon cancer.