The most common way Colorectal Cancer is diagnosed is when patient’s present to the physician’s office with signs/symptoms that are abnormal for their health. Individual’s usually present with rectal bleeding and/or the host of other symptoms addressed in the above section. In order to detect Colorectal Cancer in its early stages, a screening test has also been placed in the guidelines so that Colorectal Cancer can be diagnosed before symptoms appear. In either case, whether symptoms are present or absent, the test of choice for Colorectal Cancer diagnosis is Colonoscopy.
A Colonoscopy is a flexible tube that has a video camera on it. The Gastroenterologist uses the flexible scope to visualize the entire large intestine and rectum. During this time, the physician will also be able to visualize areas of abnormalities and take biopsies of the affected areas. The physician will also, if clinically indicated, excise any polyps or tumors within the colon and/or rectum.
Other routine lab work may be performed to look for clinical signs that can present with Colorectal Cancer. First, a CBC or Complete Blood Count may be performed to look for abnormalities within the red blood cells and/or white blood cells. It will also indicate if the patient has an iron deficiency anemia. Another test involves checking for Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA). The CEA test looks for this specific tumor marker which may be detected if the individual does have Colorectal Cancer. CEA may be present in higher levels in individuals who have Colorectal Cancer. It is not a tool of diagnosis, but rather a tool to determine if the patient who has Colorectal Cancer is responding positively to treatment.
Recommended Read: Stages of Colon Cancer and Rectal Cancer
Other imaging studies such as CT (Computed Tomography) Scan and/or MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) can be pertinent to evaluate if there is distant spread of the cancer to other areas of the body; and/or if there is involvement of lymph nodes, vascular structures and/or nerve structures.
All of these laboratory studies and imaging studies can help to diagnose Colorectal Cancer and provide information for appropriate cancer staging. When the appropriate staging occurs, then an appropriate treatment plan can be established and implemented to allow for better prognoses.
It is imperative that one be educated and understand the risks associated with the development of Colorectal Cancer. Through education, the number of preventable deaths which are contributed to late diagnosis of Colorectal Cancers across the United States of America can be significantly reduced. Having routine physicals will ensure you are up to date with screening tests that can lead to early detection of these cancers. With early detection, more lives can be saved – it’s as simple as that!