Colon Cancer Recovery

Retaining a close relationship with your doctor after colon cancer treatment and scheduling follow-up tests such as a colonoscopy are crucial steps to prevent further health problems during the recovery process. As with any cancer, colon cancer has a chance of recurring if changes in a recovering patient’s body are not properly monitored and attended to. Being diligent about your post-cancer treatment will make certain that complications will be detected early and dealt with before more stress and medical threats can ensue.

Complications can sometimes arise as a result of the surgery necessary to remove colon cancer. Sometimes, biopsy or resection surgery can leave tiny amounts of cancerous tissue inside the colon that can spread quickly, bringing the disease back full force. Other times, procedures can lead to other problems in the colorectal area, such as infection, stricture, fistula or adhesions. Our medical physicians recommend that patients in recovery from colon cancer schedule a colonoscopy, among other routine tests, once or twice as a part of their post-cancer treatment during the first year after surgery. Unless there are problems detected by your GI doctor during those colonoscopy appointments, it will be sufficient during the following years to schedule follow-up colonoscopies every two or three years.

Regular screenings will not only help prevent cancer from returning, but will also assist the patient in various other aspects of the recovery process. For example, a patient recovering from colon cancer often has to adhere to strict dietary and lifestyle plans. Seeing your medical doctor on a regular basis will keep both you and the doctor informed and aware of new symptoms, illnesses and concerns that might come up. Patients in recovery from colon cancer might also struggle with mental changes or shifts in mood as a result of having to adjust their post-treatment lifestyles. Having the same doctor treat you from start to finish can also ease the mental stress associated with having to be constantly in and out of medical facilities. Some doctors will even work out payment plans with their patients to ensure that they receive the proper medical attention without being overwhelmed by sudden financial burdens.

Your gastroenterologist (GI) doctor can also monitor your recovery process with the following tests, in addition to regular physical exams and colonoscopies:

•    CT Scanreceiving a computed tomography, also known as a CAT scan, of the abdominal and pelvic areas can help doctors catch signs of reoccurring cancer. During a CT scan, hundreds of cross-sectional images of a person’s body are taken and put together to form a 3D image of the patient’s insides. These images allow doctors to spot abnormal growths, structural problems and internal bleeding. Experts recommend that patients in recovery from colon cancer schedule a CT scan once or twice a year following their operation.

•    Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA) Test—a CEA test allows doctors to detect the presence of certain proteins in the patients’ blood that may indicate that cancer has recurred. A CEA test is a simple lab test used for patients in post-cancer treatment, especially patients who have suffered cancers of the colon, rectum, anus, pancreas, stomach, etc. Just because a doctor finds CEA proteins in someone’s blood does not always mean that that patient has experienced a relapse. However, regular CEA tests every three months after surgery can give doctors strong indicators of whether further examination is necessary. High levels of CEA in the blood can be signs of ulcers, inflammation or polyps in the patient’s body. Note that cigarette smokers may have higher levels of CEA in their blood that may or may not produce false results during a CEA test after colorectal cancer.

If you or a family member has recently undergone surgery to have cancerous parts of their bowel removed, please contact one of our colonoscopy specialists for follow-up care instructions and to learn what regular screenings can be scheduled in order to prevent further health problems.

Reviewed 12/12/2011 by David M. Nolan, M.D.
Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, 2011
Currently a Fellow of Gastroenterology, at UCI 2011-2014