Diagnosing Colorectal Cancer

Diagnosing Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is a cancer that begins in either the colon or the rectum.

The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 101,4201 new cases of colon cancer in the US in 2019. Moreover, there will be 44,1801 new cases of rectal cancer in the US in the same year.

Colorectal cancer is largely preventable with routine screening. Recommended screening tests such as colonoscopy help doctors detect colorectal cancer at an early stage when it's easier to treat. Colonoscopy is a procedure that allows doctors to look inside your colon and detect problems early, dramatically lowering your risk for colon cancer. During the test, your doctor can find and remove polyps (abnormal growths on the inside surface of the colon) before they turn into cancer.

If you've been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, MSK is ready to help.

Most people with early colorectal cancer don't have symptoms, which develop with more advanced disease. The more colon cancer grows, the more difficult it can be to treat.

If you have symptoms that suggest you may have colon cancer, your doctor will take your medical history, perform a physical examination, and likely order diagnostic tests.

If those results indicate a possible diagnosis of colon cancer, a specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK), will do a colonoscopy and take a biopsy. In this test, the doctor removes a small piece of tissue with a special instrument. A pathologist (a doctor who specializes in diagnosing disease) will then examine the tissue sample under a microscope.

Colorectal Cancer Treatment at MSK

The colon cancer specialists at MSK use several methods to confirm your diagnosis and determine the stage of your disease. These include physical examination and imaging tests such as CT scans. Your treatment will depend on the size of the tumor and the stage and nature of your cancer. You may have surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or some combination of these. Chemotherapy can be customized based on genetic changes identified in your tumor.

Each member of your care team is an expert in the field and is dedicated to providing compassionate, comprehensive cancer treatment and support tailored to meet your specific needs. MSK provides its patients with the highest-quality diagnostic evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation.

MSK is engaged in research related to all aspects of care, including new ways to fight colorectal cancer. This means that patients at MSK may have access to new treatment options being studied in clinical trials that are not available in most other hospitals.

Early Onset Colorectal Cancer

Most people diagnosed with colon cancer are over age 50. However, a growing number of men and women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are developing colorectal cancer, with no genetic predisposition and few obvious risk factors. Researchers call this troubling trend early-onset colorectal cancer.

Most national screening guidelines recommend that average-risk people with no symptoms begin regular screening starting at age 50. In May 2018, the American Cancer Society changed their guidelines to recommend that screening begin at age 45.2 People under 50 should speak with their doctor to see when they should be screened.

In response to the spike in colorectal cancer incidence among people under 50, MSK has created the Center for Young Onset Colorectal Cancer — the first in the country dedicated to these younger patients. Its three-part mission is to figure out what's contributing to the rise in early colorectal cancers, make the general population more aware of this troubling development, and help MSK's younger colorectal cancer patients cope with the unique challenges they face.

Access MSK Care, Close to Home

At MSK, you will receive advanced, comprehensive cancer care from an experienced and compassionate team of cancer specialists — as well as practical and emotional support — to meet your unique needs and circumstances.

Consistently ranked among the top hospitals for cancer care in the United States, MSK is well known for its hospital location on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. MSK also has a number of state-of-the-art outpatient facilities located in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Long Island, Westchester, and New Jersey, where you can receive the same outstanding cancer care closer to home.

For more information about treatment for colorectal cancer, please visit

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1 American Cancer Society. "Key Statistics for Colorectal Cancer"

2 American Cancer Society. "Guideline for Colorectal Cancer Screening"

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