You’ve been diagnosed with Colon Cancer or Rectal 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?" Our goal is to address some of those questions head on and provide guidance to help you determine your next course of action, so you can be fully prepared for your first oncology appointment.
We hope this guide will make your path to colorectal cancer treatment a bit smoother.
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, the size of the tumor and if it’s spread to other areas of the body (also referred to as staging). They are often the lead physician over 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 other cancer specialists on the Maryland Oncology Hematology team who specialize in various types of colorectal cancer treatments including chemotherapy, biological therapy, surgery, radiation therapy and others.
Document. Document. Document.
As a cancer patient, you will receive a large amount of important information in a short time. It's a good idea to take notes during each of your doctor's appointments. One easy way to stay organized is to purchase one notebook that you take with you to every doctor's visit. This way, you'll have all of the information you need in one place - you can keep track of your medications, your scheduled appointments, and your doctor's instructions. Ideally, look for a notebook with pockets, or go for a three-ringed binder so you can keep receipts, test results, instructions, etc.
In this notebook, you can jot down questions and concerns that come up between appointments so you'll remember to discuss them with your colorectal cancer care team. If you're worried that you'll miss important information while you're taking notes or a written notebook just isn’t ideal for you, you might want to record conversations with your physician (many smartphones have a recording feature) and write down the important information in your notebook later.
Your First Oncology Appointment
Expect to do a lot of listening during your first appointment. Your cancer care team will probably explain more about your condition and how advanced the disease is and discuss a general plan for beginning your colorectal cancer treatment. Make sure to have your notebook and recording device with you because you'll receive lots of important information.
We strongly suggest that you bring a supportive relative or friend to this oncology appointment. Not only will this person serve as an extra set of "ears" to make sure you don't miss any details, he or she will also be able to ask questions you may not think to ask and discuss the appointment with you after it's over.
How fast should I make decisions?
It’s important to make good, informed decisions without delay. With rectal and colon cancers, it’s important to act fast, but not so fast that you miss opportunities to listen to the physicians 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.
Other questions to ask?
When you are diagnosed with colon cancer or rectal cancer, there are certain questions you should ask your oncologist so you'll better understand your illness and what to expect during treatment. We recommend that you write the following questions in your cancer notebook so you'll make sure to ask your oncologist.
- 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?
It is only natural that you want to be absolutely certain that you have colorectal cancer before beginning treatment. It's understandable that you may want to get a second opinion to make sure. There is no harm in doing that, and it will help you feel confident about your diagnosis.
Our medical providers at Maryland Oncology Hematology regularly provide second opinions for patients diagnosed with prostate and other cancers. Most insurance companies will cover a second opinion assessment, but you should always check with your insurance provider to check your coverage before making an appointment. Then, to schedule a second opinion with one of our physicians choose one of our locations that is most convenient to you before contacting us to schedule an appointment.
Should I Consider Colorectal Cancer Clinical Trials?
As a member of US Oncology Research, Maryland Oncology can provide access to the latest colorectal cancer clinical trials in the Maryland and Washington D.C. areas. These clinical trials help uncover various new treatment options for colon and rectal cancers and give many patients the opportunity to receive newly developed therapies or investigational drugs not yet available outside the study.
Talk to your oncologist to find out if you are right for one of our cancer trials.
Is My Insurance Company Going to Cover my Cancer Treatments?
One of your biggest worries may be, "How will I pay for prostate cancer treatment?" And, that is a common worry!
If you have insurance, your policy will probably cover at least some of your colorectal cancer treatment. Every policy is different and every patient's recommended course of treatment will be unique. Maryland Oncology Hematology is a participating provider for most insurance companies. After your cancer diagnosis, contact your insurer and ask for a copy of your medical insurance benefits. Our patient benefits specialists can help you determine what your insurance will and will not cover. For more information on insurance and how to contact a patient benefits representative see our Insurance page.
Are there Support Groups?
We know this is a difficult time, but you can do this. The Colon Cancer Alliance is a great source of information and support, as is our Patient Resources page. You may also decide to join an online or face-to-face colorectal cancer support group.
At Maryland Oncology Hematology 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. There are plenty of people that can help you on your cancer treatment journey.