Colon cancer, also referred to as colorectal cancer, is a cancer that develops in the colon or rectum. It begins as small polyps and becomes cancerous over time.
Colon cancer is classified into five stages. Different stages of colon cancer determines how far the cancer has spread and what are the choice of treatment options. According to the National Institutes of Health, cancer arising in the colon is treatable if diagnosed in the early stages.
[Read: Diagnosis of Colorectal Cancer]
The earliest stage of colon cancer is characterised by abnormal cells that are found in the inner walls of the colon. Beyond this stage, the abnormal cells could become cancerous and spread further. The treatment options at this stage include polypectomy or local excision to remove the tumour and an extensive surgery (resection) to remove larger colon cancers.
Stage I, is also known as Dukes. At this stage, the abnormal cancer cells spread beyond the inner walls of the colon and into the muscle layers of the colon. The treatment involves surgery to remove the cancer and a small amount of tissue around the tumour. Moreover, aggressive surgery to remove all of the cancer offers a great potential for treatment.
The tumour spreads to the muscular wall of the colon and into the outer layer of the serosa, the outmost layer of the colon. The standard treatment at this stage is surgical removal of the cancer and an area surrounding it. Moreover, chemotherapy may also be given as a precaution against cancer recurrence.
The stage III of colon cancer is characterised by tumour spreading beyond serosa, into the lymph nodes. The cancer may also form tissue around or near the lymph node gland and starts to hinder its functions. Treatment options at this stage involves surgery to remove the tumour and all involved lymph nodes, chemotherapy after surgery to ward off the risk of recurrence. If the tumour is large and is invading the tissue surrounding the colon, radiation may be needed.
The most advanced stage of colon cancer is stage IV. At this stage, the cancer cells have spread into various organs in the body, such as lungs or brain. Treatment may include:
Colon cancer may return after treatment. The recurrence may be local or near the area of the initial cancer or even in the distant organs. The treatment for recurrent cancer may involve surgery to remove the recurrences with or without chemotherapy.
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