Rebuilding Your Life After Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis

Colorectal Cancer
Print icon
Dr. Gerard Fumo
Physician Lead, Hartford HealthCare Gastrointestinal Disease Management Team

Colorectal cancer, a potentially lethal disease, is one of the most preventable cancers because doctors can remove precancerous growths during a colonoscopy.

In part, because of the advances in screening, which leads to detection and removal of early cancers, we have seen a steady decline in the overall incidence of colorectal cancer by approximately 2 percent per year. Yet there also has been a steady rise of approximately 2 percent per year in the incidence in younger people, less than 50 years old. Although most guidelines have not changed recommendations on screening, this observation has lead to at least one organization, the American Cancer Society, to change their recommended screening age from 50 to 45. Colorectal cancer remains the third-most common cancer in the United States with approximately 140,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

This unsettling trend in incidence further underscores the need to understand cancer survivorship as colorectal cancer affects more people over a large spectrum of ages. When people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, undeniably, their life changes. As defined by the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship and the National Cancer Institute, this is when cancer survivorship starts —  immediately after the diagnosis.

At Hartford Healthcare Cancer Institute, we partner with our patients, guiding them and helping them rebuild their lives. Patients experience fear of the unknown and, soon after, the reality of what they are about to face. The journey then involves active treatment that continues throughout the remainder of a cancer survivor’s lifetime.

Although there are different ways to define the phases of survivorship, it is clear that survivorship is a continuous journey. Each phase greatly impacts the next. In the initial phase, it is important to educate, guide and provide support from an entire oncology team that not only includes care providers, but also navigation, social, dietary and spiritual services.

At the Cancer Institute, our gastroenterologist and surgeons are using the least invasive techniques, such as endoscopic or laparoscopic resections, to achieve the best outcomes with the least morbidity and quickest recoveries.

Also:

  • Strategies, both operative and non-operative, are evolving to decrease the chance of permanent ostomy bags.
  • Meticulous radiation planning and techniques help limit injury to normal pelvic structures and prevent nerve damage.
  • Selective use of chemotherapy decreases side effects and the potential for permanent neuropathy.
  • Advances in supportive care medications provide the real opportunity to carry on normal daily activities throughout the therapy phase.

Despite every best effort, however, there are many lasting effects of cancer therapy. An ostomy bag may be an obvious lifestyle change.  Others may experience ongoing fatigue, psychosocial distress, body image distress or sexual dysfunction.

Some may say that this next, “extended or permanent phase” of the journey is “life after cancer.” This phrase can potentially be interpreted as a defining point in one’s life.  Rather, I’d like to think that life will continue to be defined by the individual.  There are currently more than 1 million colorectal cancer survivors in the Unite States. The oncology community encourages all survivors to embrace a survivorship program and be proactive about their health and well-being.

Once treatment is completed, a survivorship care plan will outline diagnosis, stage, therapy, appropriate surveillance and long-term monitoring. A care plan will also account for genetic information and modifiable risk factors.  Survivors can take control of their own lives by continuing the education process and pursuing appropriate resources, diet, exercise and behaviors.

The Cancer Institute is dedicated to providing the necessary resources for all our colorectal cancer survivors.

Dr. Gerard Fumo, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, is the physician lead of the Gastrointestinal Disease Management Team at the Hartford Healthcare Cancer Institute. For more information about colorectal cancer, click here.

 


What's New

After Cancer Treatment

How Physical Rehab Can Help Recovery From Lung Cancer      

By Ruth H. Satterberg Occupational Therapist, Certified Lymphedema Therapist Hospital of Central CT Cancer Institute A lung cancer diagnosis can be extremely challenging. Lung cancer, different from breast cancer, often has more complications and challenges to overcome. Evidence shows that physical and occupational therapy can be very helpful at all stages...

Senior man giving wife a kiss

The Long-Term Effects of Cancer Therapy on Your Body

Treatment of lung cancer has developed rapidly in the past 10 years. With earlier detection and improved therapies, patient outcomes have improved significantly. The therapies used for treatment of lung cancer — chemotherapy, radiation and surgery — certainly cause many acute side effects.  But this article will focus on the...

Heat wave and exercise

Having a Heatwave? When Exercising, Know Your Body’s Limits

Brace yourself for a weekend heatwave with temperatures in some Connecticut towns reaching 100 degrees. More ominously, heat-index values that combine temperature and dew point are expected to reach as high as 115. That probably won’t stop the diehard exercisers among us, but experts advise caution during such extreme weather....

Hoarding Study

Institute of Living Study: What Motivates a Hoarder?

To understand hoarding and cultivate a healthy mindset beyond the large-scale purging of piles and boxes of belongings, behavioral health clinicians must first understand what motivates the hoarder. Researchers with the Hartford HealthCare Institute of Living in Hartford will probe that motivation more closely as part of the new study “Emotional...

Insulin Pump and Exercise

Exercise and an Insulin Pump: Here’s How to Do It

How can you exercise with an insulin pump? Healthwise content is included in this report. Hartford Healthcare Rehabilitation Network, a not-for-profit member of Hartford HealthCare, offers physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology, sports medicine and health & wellness programs.  Please call 860.696.2500 or click here for more information.