If your doctor removed polyps during your colonoscopy, if your FIT Test results are abnormal or if you are experiencing the signs and symptoms, your doctor will perform additional tests to confirm a diagnosis.
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Signs & Symptoms
Most signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer affect bowel habits. They include:
- A change in bowel habits, including constipation or diarrhea
- Narrow stool
- Dark stool
- Rectal bleeding
- Abdominal cramping
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
However, since colorectal cancer begins as small polyps, symptoms aren’t usually present until later stages. If you are 50 or older, or meet the risk factors, talk to your doctor about a colorectal cancer screening.
An ultrasound uses sound waves and echoes to create a black-and-white image or map of the inside of the body. During an Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS), the doctor inserts a tube with an ultrasound transducer at the end into the rectum, and moves the toward the beginning of the colon to obtain detailed images of the lining and walls.
If your doctor suspects the cancer has spread outside of the colon, he or she may order a CT/CAT scan of the chest, abdomen and/or pelvis. These scans use multiple X-rays at different angles to create 3D images of the body to help doctors determine the stage of the cancer and how far the cancer has spread. CT scans also help doctors visualize the treatment’s progress.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a scan that uses radio waves and strong magnetic fields to create images of the inside of the body. You will need to remain very still during the procedure. Doctors use MRIs to determine the stage of the cancer and how far the cancer has spread. MRIs also help doctors visualize the treatment’s progress.
To conduct a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, the doctor injects a sugar-based radioactive tracer. The tracer couples with cancer cells and emits radioactive signals that the PET scan system reads. It turns these readings into images that doctors use to find where cancer has spread.
A biopsy is the removal of a small amount of tissue to test for disease. In the case of colorectal cancer, your doctor will send any polyps removed during the colonoscopy to a laboratory. A pathologist will search for cancer cells in the samples under a microscope.
The pathologist who studied the biopsy will send a report to your doctor. This report will contain information on the type of cancer and a grade based on the how abnormal the cells look. The report will also include predictions on how likely the cancer is to grow, spread throughout the body and recur after treatment. Your doctor will use this information to craft a tailored treatment plan.