If your healthcare provider believes you may have colon and rectal cancer, you will need certain exams and tests to be sure. You should expect to be asked questions about your health history, your colon and rectal cancer symptoms, colon and rectal cancer risk factors, and family history of disease. Understanding your background will help your provider make a diagnosis.

He or she will also give you a physical exam, including an exam of the colon and rectum. You may have one or more of the following tests.

  • Computed tomography (CT). During this imaging test, X-rays create cross-sectional images of the colon and rectum.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This type of imaging study uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create 3D images. 
  • X-rays. These quick and easy imaging studies use radiation to create images of the structures within the body.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET). This imaging test uses radioactive substances to help visualize function of the organs and tissues.
  • Ultrasound. Using a probe that produces sound waves, your physician can obtain images of the inside of the colon and rectum.

A substance that will show up on X-ray is given as an enema, and air is pumped into the colon, causing it to expand. This process allows abnormalities to show up on X-ray film.

Samples of the stool are analyzed to look for blood, which indicates the possibility of cancer.

Most people will need a colonoscopy if rectal cancer is suspected so your doctor can see any polyps, tumors or other signs of cancer. 

  • Colonoscopy. A small lighted tube with a video camera on the end is used to examine the rectum and colon. This lets the doctor see the entire colon.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy. A sigmoidoscope, a lighted tube about the thickness of a finger, is inserted through the rectum into the lower part of the colon to check for cancer or polyps. This exam evaluates about one-third of the colon.
  • Proctoscopy. A small lighted tube with a video camera on the end is used to examine just the rectum.
  • Virtual colonoscopy (CT colonoscopy). A tube is inserted in the rectum, air is pumped in to inflate the bowel, and a CT scan is used to create 2D and 3D images.

If there are polyps, your doctor will remove them for biopsy. Some polyps are precancerous and could develop into tumors, but others are totally benign. This is why getting a regular colonoscopy before you have any symptoms is so important.

Patients will be contacted after a biopsy by a Markey team member to review results. Further management will be recommended at that time.

When you are diagnosed with colon and rectal cancer, it is common to feel a sense of urgency around starting colon and rectal cancer treatment. However, in most cases, there is time to do the needed research to ensure that your diagnosis is correct. That may include getting a second opinion.

Our team of experts works together to diagnose, treat and prevent colon and rectal cancer, with a focus on individualized patient care. 

Markey is among the best cancer centers in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report, when it comes to advanced treatment options, survival rates and experienced providers. As the first and only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in Kentucky, Markey is able to serve many patients each year with rare and common cancers, including colon and rectal cancer.

Our specialized team is happy to work with your doctors and communicate to ensure confidence in your diagnosis.

Should I get a second opinion?

A second opinion can help to ensure that you will be getting the latest and most effective therapy for treating a sarcoma. The following are common reasons for seeking a second opinion after your initial diagnosis:

  • You are having difficulty understanding your diagnosis.
  • A dedicated team specialized in your cancer type may not be available in your area.
  • There may be uncertainty around the stage of sarcoma.
  • You may want to learn more about treatment options, including clinical trials and advanced technologies only available at an advanced center like Markey.
  • Your health insurance requires a second opinion before continuing toward treatment.

Questions to ask when getting a second opinion

After receiving a cancer diagnosis, you may have a lot on your mind. Here a few questions to keep in mind for your doctor when seeking a second opinion:

  • Is there a chance that my medical problem could have a different diagnosis?
  • Are there additional tests I should take before moving forward with treatment?
  • Do you recommend any treatments at this time?
  • What do you expect to happen if I wait or don’t have the treatment?
  • What are the side effects of treatment?
  • How long are treatment recovery periods?

For more information, visit these trusted national sources for a variety of additional educational tools and resources:

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NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center - A Cancer Center Designated by the National Cancer Institute

Markey Cancer Center is designated by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Center – a distinction that recognizes our commitment to accelerating precision cancer research and care to patients. We are the first and only NCI-Comprehensive Cancer Center in Kentucky, and one of 56 in the nation.