Just Diagnosed?

There are many ways patients and caregivers respond to a colorectal cancer diagnosis: fear, panic, determination, resolve, grit. An array of emotions will likely come as you process, but here’s one thing you’re guaranteed to need: support and education.

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Unless you’re in the minority of patients and caregivers who are already familiar with this disease, it’s likely you need some help if you’re facing a colorectal cancer diagnosis. We want you to have the information you need so you can be an educated patient or caregiver, an empowered advocate, and so you can make wise decisions about your health.

You have a right to know everything about your cancer and have a say in your treatment plan.

About the colon

A colorectal cancer diagnosis means you’ll be talking and thinking a lot about the colon. If high school anatomy class is a little fuzzy, here’s a quick refresher about this important organ:

  • The colon is 5 feet long.
  • The colon’s function is to process food into waste once nutrients have been absorbed by the small intestine and help you eliminate it by creating stool, aka poop!
  • The colon is often called the large intestine, but this is incorrect. The colon is the largest part of the large intestine, but it’s not the entire organ. The large intestine involves the appendix, colon, rectum, and anus.
  • Yes, you can live without a large intestine.

While the general public often thinks about the colon as one, big organ, when you’re facing a colorectal cancer diagnosis, it’s important to understand a little more about the anatomy of the colon and rectum, and how it works.

The colon has two sides, five sections, and two colic flexures (also known as curves).

The right side of your colon accounts for your:

  • Cecum
  • Ascending colon
  • Hepatic flexure
  • Transverse colon (right half)

The left side of your colon accounts for your:

  • Transverse colon (left half)
  • Splenic flexure
  • Descending colon
  • Sigmoid colon

Although not technically the colon, your rectum is considered left side.

Understanding which side of the colon (right or left) your colorectal cancer first originated, and the section of colon as well, is important information because it can have an impact on surgery, post-surgery side effects, as well as treatment planning.

Learn more from our blog, Sidedness: What Side Is Your Cancer On?

What is cancer?

Cancer occurs when something goes wrong within the cell duplication process. All our bodies have cells that multiply and divide—that’s how we stay alive! When a cell divides abnormally or it gets old and it doesn’t die, the abnormal and old cells multiply rather than the healthy cells—and this is the basis of cancer. When this happens in the colon or rectum, you’re facing colorectal cancer.

Learn more about cancer and how it starts from the National Cancer Institute.

Colon cancer vs. rectal cancer

Another key piece of understanding your colorectal cancer diagnosis is knowing the difference between colon cancer and rectal cancer.

Colon cancer occurs when cancer originates in the cecum, ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon, or sigmoid colon.

Rectal cancer occurs when cancer originates in the rectum.

In some cases, cancer can occur in the rectosigmoid segment, which is between the sigmoid colon and rectum. In this case, it may be classified as “colorectal cancer.”

Colorectal cancer is a term used to encompass both colon and rectal cancers. Both types of cancer can develop from colon polyps; and the symptoms and screening methods for both colon cancer and rectal cancer are the same. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, designed to raise awareness of both cancer types.

However, there are key differences in treatment planning based on if you have colon cancer or rectal cancer. That’s why it’s important to know your exact diagnosis.

Learn more from our blog, Rectal Cancer vs. Colon Cancer.

Cancer staging: Understanding a colorectal cancer diagnosis

After you’ve been officially diagnosed, your next step is cancer staging. Staging your cancer means doctors will determine how advanced it is. Knowing your cancer stage will help you find answers to questions like:

  • Did we catch it early, or has the cancer spread to other organs (metastasized)?
  • Will I need chemo or targeted therapy? Do I have a choice? What is the difference?
  • Will I need radiation?
  • Will I need surgery? What kind?
  • How much longer do I have to live?

Your stage and tumor type will help answer these questions. Colorectal cancer can be diagnosed with stages 0-IV.

Learn more about colorectal cancer staging.

Survival rates

Like it or not, it’s one of the first questions we ask when we face a colorectal cancer diagnosis: How long do I have?

First: You must know every patient is unique, there are survivors from every stage, and people beat the odds every day. There is always hope.

But we realize there’s also a reality to this disease, and there’s data behind average colorectal cancer survival rates that can attempt to answer that question—factors like stage of diagnosis, race, age, gender, and more. When you’re reading the data, it’s important to understand that localized means stage I or stage II; regional means stage III; and distal means stage IV.”

Survival rates are based on statistical analyses of patient data. These statistics are projections and percentages—not absolutes.

So, to understand your diagnosis; how advanced it is; and how aggressive your fight may need to be, it can be helpful to know the survival rate based on your cancer stage.

Learn more about colorectal cancer survival rates.


Your patient rights

It’s likely that you were handed or shown a sheet at the hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office that underscored your patient rights. It’s also likely that you signed it without really reading it, as it’s often tucked inside a large number of forms you must sign before receiving scheduled medical care.

In 1997, the White House issued a federally overseen Patient’s Bill of Rights, which was amended in 2010 by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In addition to the federally mandated health care rights, several other groups have adapted and established patient’s bill of rights.

When you’re diagnosed with colorectal cancer, it’s important to learn and remember your patient rights. Here are a few critical ones to keep in mind:

  • You have a right to make informed decisions about your care and to also refuse care.
  • You have a right to get a second opinion.
  • You have a right to ask for transparency regarding your medical bills.
  • You have a right to be treated with respect and dignity.
  • You have a right to an advanced directive.
  • You have a right to your medical records and the privacy of those records.
  • You have a right to access quality health care and live a healthy life, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, religion, and socioeconomic status.

These are only a few of your patient rights that apply anywhere you go for care in the U.S., no matter what type of care you need. Several other groups have also put together patient rights:

Read more about Fight CRC’s commitment to access to care and health equity.

Online information and misinformation

If you’re like most of us, one of the very first things you did when you received your colorectal cancer diagnosis was turn to Google. That may, in fact, be how you found us here at Fight CRC.

We aren’t going to tell you to stop Googling, as there’s some great information out there that can help you understand your diagnosis. However, make sure you’re getting your information from trusted sites and accounts.

Unfortunately, trolls and scumbags pray on the vulnerable, which puts colorectal cancer patients and caregivers at an increased risk.

Beware of misinformation about cancer and false claims. Don’t accept something you read online as truth unless you run it past your medical team.

Who can I trust?

If you’re starting out, here are safe places we recommend turning to when gathering information online:

What should you stay away from?

  • Do not accept everything you read in social media groups or on message boards as fact.
  • Beware of websites trying to sell you something to cure your cancer.
  • If the website is for complementary alternative medicine, make sure it’s tied into research studies.
  • Accounts of people claiming to have the answer to cancer, but not the credentials nor the experience.

Your Guide in the Fight Meetups

Your Guide in the Fight Meetups are an opportunity to connect with people who have been in your shoes. No one fights alone. These meetups also give you a chance to share your experiences with other patients, survivors, caregivers, loved ones, and medical professionals. We know that a colorectal cancer diagnosis doesn’t just affect the patient, it affects everyone who loves you. 

Patient & caregiver resources for a colorectal cancer diagnosis

Our resource library has been curated to provide you with the resources you need in the format you want. From fact sheets and publications, to webinars and podcasts, we have a little something for everyone. Click on the photos below for our most popular resources for newly diagnosed patients and their families, or click the button to go to our full resource library.

Champion Stories

Colorectal cancer is a unique experience, but you may find you have a lot in common with other survivors, caregivers, and loved ones. Find inspiration from other champions and share your story to be featured.

Fight CRC Review

Danielle Ripley-Burgess

VP Disease Awareness & Education

Last Reviewed: January 21, 2024