You’ve Been Diagnosed with Colon Cancer or Rectal Cancer. What Happens Next?

Being diagnosed with colorectal cancer can be startling. Therefore, it’s understandable that you may have questions about what you will face in the coming days, weeks, and months. At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers (RMCC), our goal is to help you address some of the questions head-on, so you can properly prepare for your first oncology appointment. We hope this guide will make your path to colorectal cancer treatment a bit smoother. 

What kind of doctors do I need to see? 

To help make treatment decisions about your colorectal cancer, it’s helpful to first consult with a medical oncologist. Oncology is the study of cancer; therefore, an oncologist is a doctor who has been medically trained to lead the care for patients after a cancer diagnosis. As a patient of Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, you will have access to our colorectal cancer specialists at any of our locations across Colorado, including Boulder, Colorado Springs, and Denver.

While surgery may seem like the logical first step, some cases can benefit from a different approach. Visiting with the medical oncologist first will help determine the best treatment for your particular situation. 

Keep a Notebook

As a cancer patient, you’ll receive a lot of information from your oncologist— much of which can be hard to remember. To stay organized, we suggest getting a notebook to keep a record of your important information. This can include how you’re feeling and what medicines or supplements you’re taking, to any questions, thoughts, or observations you have regarding appointments and procedures. Try to put a date on everything you write down to keep your thoughts and notes organized. 

If audio recordings on your phone work better for you, that’s fine too. Just pick one method and commit to using it regularly. Having information well documented can help keep the lines of communication open between you and your doctors. 

Here are a few suggestions of things to keep in mind when asking about your colorectal cancer: 

  • Information about any genetic connection your family members may need to consider
  • Your lifestyle (diet, exercise, rest, stress)
  • What to expect during your future appointments
  • Diet and nutrition recommendations. Are there any natural supplements I can or can’t take?
  • Who is involved in the cancer care team?
  • What are my colorectal cancer treatment options, goals, and side effects?
  • Are there any activities to avoid? How about any that you should add to your routine?
  • Are clinical trials an option?
  • Is there access to supportive care?
  • What time frame do I have to make treatment decisions?

Something else you might consider is bringing a family member or friend to appointments to help ask questions and take notes. Having an extra set of ears may help you recall details later on. 

Your First Oncology Appointment

The first oncology appointment is often the most difficult one, so we recommend that you take a relative or friend with you as a support partner. Not only will they be there to provide emotional support, but they can also listen and help take notes on all the information you will be receiving. For more information about your first visit with a Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers oncologist, visit our New Patients’ web page.  

Can I wait to make decisions about my treatment?

It’s important to make good, informed decisions without delay. However, you shouldn’t act so fast that you miss opportunities to listen to your doctor’s recommended cancer treatment plan and address any questions or concerns that you may have. 

Your first step is to schedule an appointment with a gastrointestinal or colon cancer specialist.

Other Questions to Ask About Your Cancer 

When you receive a colon cancer diagnosis, there are some questions you should ask your cancer care team to help better understand your new diagnosis and what to expect during your cancer treatment. The cancer specialists at RMCC recommend that you ask your oncologist the following questions. You can write these questions into your cancer notebook:

  • 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?
  • Will cancer treatment affect my daily life? 
  • What are the treatment options for my colon or rectal cancer?
  • What are the side effects of these treatment options? 
  • Does my colorectal cancer treatment plan include surgery?
  • 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 therapy?

What About Colorectal Cancer Clinical Trials?

As a member of US Oncology Research, Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers can access the latest clinical trials throughout Colorado. These colon and rectal cancer clinical trials help develop new treatment options and allow many patients to receive newly developed therapies or investigational drugs not yet available outside the study.

Talk to your oncologist to determine if you are right for one of our available colon or rectal cancer trials.

Should I Get a Second Opinion?

Feeling confident about your colorectal cancer diagnosis is extremely important, so many patients choose to get a second opinion before beginning a specific treatment plan. Our physicians provide many second opinions on both colorectal cancer diagnosis and treatment options at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers. Many insurance companies will cover a second opinion assessment, but it is still good to contact your insurance provider for verification of coverage. 

You Are Not Alone 

Through this challenging time, the physicians at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers are here to help you every step of the way, including providing you with a binder with more helpful tips and what to expect during your colorectal cancer journey. Various community resources may help you too.