Colon cancer (and all cancers) are always diagnosed in stages, and we know they can range from a Stage I to a Stage IV. Those not versed in those stages also should know that sub-stage letters are placed on each respective stage based on certain things found in the diagnosis. But if you’ve never been tested before, you may want to know the procedures that help determine how advanced a colon cancer case is.
Some of the tests use imaging so doctors can look at the tumor involved and make an estimate of how small or big it is and whether cancer cells have spread. What imaging test you have may be determined on your health and how many you might have had before.
These scans are the most common, and it’s likely you’ve already had one in your life if you’ve ever had to deal with a health issue. They may be used first to get a basic idea of what’s going on in your colon. One reason they’re considered first is because they don’t take as much time to do and are cheaper. Nevertheless, if you’ve had multiple ones in recent months, your doctor may suggest another imaging test so you don’t get too much exposure to radiation.
During the procedure, expect a dye to be injected into your vein to aid in making the images show up better.
Imaging with Higher Resolution
If a tumor is harder to see in the colon, your doctor may order an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) or even a PET scan (Positron Emission Tomography). The MRI is perfectly safe, though takes considerable more time in a day if also spending time in a confined tube. Regardless, many patients zone out by wearing earbuds and listening to music while the procedure is being done.
MRI’s use radio waves to give higher-definition images on a computer. And with the injection of gadolinium into your vein, any cancer cells in your colon will show up with more definition so a more definite staging can be given.
PET scans are frequently used to find malignant cancers anywhere in the body. They’re sometimes given to people who’ve already had cancer and worry they perhaps have a recurrence. You’ll need an injection here, too, and this time it’s radioactive glucose. Because malignant cancer cells use more glucose, those cells will be easier highlighted in the scan to scope out any potentials of cancer being in the colon.
Lymph Node Biopsy
This test can help determine staging more than any other, because it determines if cells have gone into your lymph nodes. While it can be alarming to find out that cancer has gone into your lymph nodes, it shouldn’t incite panic. With proper cancer treatments, the chances are still good of killing cancer cells that might have entered the body. Many people even at Stage IV colon cancer can have successful treatments that helps prolong life.
Complete Blood Count or CEA Test
You may have this test before any of the above to determine if there’s a chance you have colon cancer. It helps determine your red and white blood cells, plus your platelets. A chance of cancer can also be determined this way by how much hemoglobin is in your red blood cells.
Another simple method for determining possible colon cancer is a carcinoembryonic antigen assay, or CEA test. When this antigen is found in your blood, it’s usually a sign of colon cancer or other types of cancer.
This and all tests should be discussed with your doctor so they can determine which one is best suited for you based on overall health. Fortunately, the simplest test can sometimes tell doctors enough where you can start to begin treatment and find some peace in knowing you’re living in a time when colon cancer can be seen rather than assumed.