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Colon Cancer & Rectal Cancer

What to Do if You’re Newly Diagnosed with Colon Cancer or Rectal Cancer

If you have been recently diagnosed with colon cancer or rectal cancer (known as colorectal cancer), you probably have a lot of questions starting with, "Now what?". Virginia Oncology Associates hopes to guide you through some of the most common questions patients have and provide you with information to prepare you for your first appointment.

What Kind of Doctor Should I See Next?

You may have already had surgery to remove polyps or a growth in the colon or rectum. If the biopsy performed on the cells removed during surgery show that cancer is present, it’s helpful to consult with a medical oncologist to discuss options for your colorectal cancer treatment plan. 

These cancer specialists will be up-to-date on the best options for treatment based on your unique situation. Medical oncologists are often the physician leading your cancer treatment process and may bring in other cancer specialists, as needed, for various components of treatment. The oncologist may also request several other tests to better understand the location of the cancer cells in your body. This information will be used along with the biopsy report to establish the stage of colorectal cancer

Keep a Notebook and Write It All Down

Your oncologist will share a lot of important information, and it can be hard to remember it all. To help stay organized, it's a good idea to take notes during each of your doctor's appointments. Purchase a notebook and take it with you to every doctor's visit. This way, you can keep all the details in one place — keep track of your medications, your scheduled appointments, and your doctor's instructions.

You can take note of questions and concerns that come up between appointments, so you'll remember to ask your colorectal cancer care team. Having information available on hand can help keep communication open between you and your doctors.

A few things to share with your oncologist during your visit might include:

  • Information about this cancer or other types of cancer that seem to run in your family, even if a genetic connection has not been proven.
  • Know what medications you're currently taking, including the drug name and dose. You can take photos of the bottles before you go to your appointment if that helps.
  • Discuss nutritional supplements, vitamins, and minerals you’re taking. There can be interactions with some of the cancer treatment drugs that your oncologist can warn you about.
  • Your lifestyle habits are important for the doctor to understand. Sharing detailed information about your diet, exercise routine, sleep schedule, stress levels, etc., will provide necessary information during the evaluation phase of your plan.  
  • Tell the doctor if you smoke or used to smoke.
  • Tell the doctor if you have a history of heavy alcohol or drug use. Your cancer care team needs to know how aspects of your lifestyle may affect treatment and potential interactions.

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 starting colorectal cancer treatment. 

We do recommend 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, but they will also be able to ask questions you may not think to ask and discuss the appointment with you after it's over.

For additional information, read our recommendations for your first visit to Virginia Oncology Associates.

Can I Wait to Make Decisions About Treatment? 

It’s important to make good, informed decisions without delay. With rectal and colon cancer, it is important to schedule treatment within a certain period to avoid any delay in your care and treatment outcomes. This is a great time to ask any unaddressed or new questions. The first step is typically scheduling an appointment with a colorectal cancer specialist at an oncology office convenient to you. If you would like a second opinion, schedule an appointment and let your referring physician and oncologist know what is happening.

Getting a Second Opinion

Asking for a second opinion is a normal process for many patients. It is important that you are comfortable with your treatment plan. Talking to another oncologist can help you finalize the best direction for you. 

Our medical oncologists at Virginia Oncology Associates regularly provide second opinions for patients diagnosed with colorectal and other cancers. Most insurance companies will cover a second opinion assessment, but you should always check your coverage with your insurance provider before making an appointment. To schedule a second opinion with one of our oncologists, choose one of our locations that is most convenient for you.

Other Questions to Ask About Colorectal Cancer

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 diagnosis and what to expect during treatment. We recommend that you write the following questions in your notebook, so you'll make sure to ask your oncologist.

  • Is it colon cancer or rectal cancer?
  • What are the treatment options for my colon or rectal cancer?
  • Does my colorectal cancer treatment plan include surgery, even if I’ve had surgery already?
  • Will I need a colostomy bag? Will it be permanent?
  • Do I need to change my diet? Can I eat regular foods?
  • How will cancer treatment affect my daily life?
  • What are the side effects of the treatments being recommended?
  • 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 Consider Colorectal Cancer Clinical Trials?

Virginia Oncology Associates provides access to the latest colorectal cancer clinical trials in the Hampton Roads area. 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 clinical trials.

Will My Insurance Cover Cancer Treatments?

One of your biggest worries may be, "How will I pay for colorectal cancer treatment?" And that is a very common concern among those being treated for any type of cancer.

If you have insurance, your policy will probably cover at least some of your colorectal cancer treatment. All policies are different, and every patient's recommended course of treatment will be unique. Virginia Oncology Associates is a participating provider for most insurance companies. 

Our office can work with your insurance company to get a full explanation of what is covered and assist you with understanding the financial responsibilities.

You’re Not In This Alone

We know the cancer journey is a challenging one, but you can do this. Virginia Oncology Associates’ team of oncology social workers and nurse navigators will help you answer questions, help your family with challenges you’re facing, and find other resources you may need.