Steps for diagnosing colorectal cancer
Here is what you can expect from the diagnostic process:
- Initial evaluation: Our doctors give a complete physical exam and ask about family history and symptoms related to colon cancer or rectal cancer. They also look inside the colon or rectum with specialized tubes (scopes), such as those used for colonoscopy.
- Laboratory tests: A doctor who suspects colon cancer may order lab tests to check for blood in the stool.
- Biopsy: Your doctor might take a sample of suspicious tissue to test the cells for cancer and potentially confirm a diagnosis.
- Imaging: Your doctor may order tests to take pictures of the inside of your body, including your rectum and colon. These imaging tests may include CT (computed tomography) scans or X-rays.
Colorectal cancer staging
Once we confirm a diagnosis, our team evaluates the colorectal cancer’s stage by measuring the tumor’s size and determining whether disease has spread. Staging helps doctors recommend the most effective treatment options and create a personalize treatment plan for you.
Our team uses ultrasound and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to view tumors and stage colorectal cancer. Colon cancer stages vary somewhat from rectal cancer stages.
Colon cancer stages
Doctors divide colon cancer into four stages:
- Stage 0: Doctors identify cancer in the inner lining of the colon (mucosa), but it has not spread deeper into the colon wall. This stage is also called carcinoma in situ.
- Stage I: Cancer has spread to the colon wall and possibly into the muscle layer of the colon.
- Stage II: The tumor has spread deeper into the colon wall. It may extend into the muscle layer of the colon and/or into nearby organs.
- Stage III: Cancer has spread from the colon. It extends into nearby organs and into or near lymph nodes.
- Stage IV: Cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Rectal cancer stages
Rectal cancer also features four stages:
- Stage 0: Cancer is in the lining of the rectum (mucosa), but it has not spread deeper into the rectal wall. This is also called carcinoma in situ.
- Stage I: Cancer has not spread beyond the rectum wall.
- Stage II: The tumor goes deeper into the rectum wall.
- Stage III: Cancer has spread from the rectum to nearby lymph nodes or other organs.
- Stage IV: Cancer has spread to distant parts of the body.
Genetic testing and counseling
Some colorectal cancers arise from genetic changes inherited from parents. If there’s a possibility your diagnosis is tied to inherited cancer, we can coordinate genetic testing and counseling through Henry Ford’s Cancer Genetics Program.