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Colon Cancer Diagnosis

At the Abramson Cancer Center, colon cancer diagnosis and treatment is a team effort. Our renowned gastrointestinal (GI) cancer experts use leading diagnostic tools and in-depth collaboration to pinpoint your diagnosis. This approach provides a high degree of accuracy and helps us personalize your treatment.

Colon Cancer Diagnosis: The Penn Medicine Advantage

You can trust Penn Medicine’s colon cancer specialists to provide a precise diagnosis based on exceptional expertise. Our experience spans all types of colon cancers, including rare and advanced cases.

You can count on us to offer:

  • Vast diagnostic resources: Our doctors use the latest diagnostic tests and colon cancer detection tools. Penn’s expansive network makes it easier for you to access the tests you need with fewer hassles. Find the Abramson Cancer Center location nearest you.
  • Leading colon cancer experts: You’ll receive care from highly trained specialists — including gastroenterologists, pathologists and colorectal surgeons — at the forefront of their field. Subspecialized training and decades of cumulative experience enable us to provide expert care for the most complex cases. Meet our GI cancer specialists.
  • Program dedicated to hereditary cancers: Having a personal or family history of colon cancer may put you at increased risk for colon or other cancers. Through Penn’s Gastrointestinal Cancer Genetics Program, our expert genetic counselors help you evaluate, understand and manage cancer risk.
  • Leading treatment options: We treat colon cancer using the most advanced therapies, including proton therapy and clinical trials. Our fellowship-trained colorectal surgeons perform a high volume of cancer surgeries on the colon, rectum and anus. Advanced surgical techniques help us treat cancer while minimizing any impact to how your body functions.

How We Diagnose Colon Cancer

Colon cancer diagnosis often involves multiple tests. Your doctor may order one or more of the following exams or screenings.


Often, colon cancer diagnosis involves a colonoscopy. During a colonoscopy, a doctor uses a thin, flexible tube with a camera on it to see inside the colon. Your doctor will check for abnormal growths (called polyps) or other areas of concern. Doctors may remove polyps or other abnormal tissue during the same procedure.

You may get a colonoscopy to:

  • Screen for colon cancer: Screening colonoscopy helps doctors detect and remove polyps (benign growths that may turn into cancer one day). It can also help doctors detect colon cancers that may cause no symptoms. Regular colon cancer screening is a lifesaving tool that can help you prevent colon cancer. Learn more about colon cancer risk and prevention.
  • Evaluate symptoms: Your doctor may recommend a diagnostic colonoscopy if you have blood in your stool or other common colon cancer symptoms. In this case, the procedure helps your doctor confirm or rule out cancer as the cause of your symptoms.

Other Colon Tests

Doctors may use additional tests to make or inform a colon cancer diagnosis:

  • Imaging tests: CT, MRI or other imaging tests can capture important details, including a tumor’s size or location.
  • Blood tests: Your doctor may order blood tests to evaluate your overall health. A blood test may also check for substances (called tumor markers) that colon cancer cells make.
  • Stool-based tests: Doctors may use stool-based tests for colon cancer screening or diagnosis. For some tests, a lab checks a stool sample for signs of colon cancer, such as blood. Other tests analyze the DNA in stool for possible cancer.
  • Pathology tests: If your doctor removes abnormal tissue during a colonoscopy, a pathologist will analyze cells under a microscope, looking for telltale signs of cancer. Pathology tests can confirm or rule out a cancer diagnosis. Our pathologists are experts in GI cancer diagnosis.

Colon Cancer Staging

If you have colon cancer, your doctor may recommend more tests to get a more complete picture of your health and determine the cancer’s stage. Cancer stage is determined by where the cancer is located and if it’s spread beyond the colon. This information helps us customize your care and determine the best course of treatment.

Imaging tests help show a tumor’s size and whether cancer has spread beyond the colon, such as to nearby lymph nodes or other organs. At Penn, we also perform specialized genomic tests on cancer tissue’s DNA. All of these details help us understand which treatments are most likely to benefit you. We use these test results to customize your care. Read about colon cancer treatment options.

Request an Appointment

Call 215-615-5858 to speak with a cancer center representative who can guide you to the right colon cancer expert for your needs. You can also request an appointment online.