Treatment for colon cancer depends on what stage your cancer is at. Colon cancer is staged according to the following guidelines:
Stage 0. The cancer is confined to just the inner lining of the colon. The treatments at this stage include:
Remove polyps. During a colonoscopy, the doctor will remove any polyps.
Local excision. Any growths that appear “flat” are removed during the colonoscopy.
Open surgery. If you are at high-risk for cancer and polyps are found to be cancerous, the doctor may discuss surgery to remove part of your colon early on to prevent the spread of cancer.
It is not common to do chemotherapy during Stage 0 colon cancer.
Stage I. Stage I colon cancer has spread beyond the inner lining of the colon and into the inside of the colon wall. The treatment at this time is surgery to remove any of the cancerous tissue and some of the healthy tissue outside of the tumor. Doctors do not do chemotherapy at this stage.
The good news is the five-year survival rate at this stage is 93%.
Stage II By this stage, the colon cancer has moved into the muscles inside the wall of the colon. Treatments at this stage include:
Surgery. All the cancerous areas are removed, as well as areas of tissue around cancer.
Chemotherapy. In high-risk individuals, chemotherapy is used at this stage to prevent any further spread of cancer or re-occurrence.
At this stage, the five-year survival rate is around 78%.
Stage III. At this stage, the cancer is beginning to spread to the lymph nodes from where it can metastasize to the rest of the body. Stage IIIA means the cancer is still confined to the colon walls but has reached one or more lymph nodes. Stage IIIB means cancer has spread outside the colon and into one or more lymph nodes. Treatment at this stage includes:
Surgery. Surgery removes the cancerous areas, surrounding tissues, and the lymph nodes that were involved.
Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is always used at this stage to kill off any remaining cancer cells in the body.
Combination chemotherapy. In advanced cases, a combination of chemotherapy drugsmay be used in conjunction with the standard chemotherapy drug used in earlier stages.
Radiation. If you have a large tumor that moved to any tissue outside the colon, radiation may be used.
At this stage, the five-year survival rate is around 64%.
Stage IV. Stage IV colon cancer has spread outside the colon and into other organs. The organs most often affected are the liver and the lungs. This is known as “metastasis”. Cancer may or may not have spread to the lymph nodes. Treatment at this stage includes:
Surgery. Surgery involves removing the affected part of the colon. The colon will be re-attached at the healthy parts. You may also need surgery to remove any cancer from other organs.
Chemotherapy. At this stage, chemotherapy may not be curative but can help relieve any symptoms and raise the survival rate.
Combination chemotherapy. In people who are less responsive to one type of chemotherapy, doctors now have several types available that are more effective when used in combination.
Clinical trials. Because the survival rate is lower at this stage, your doctor may recommend you for clinical trials of new cancer treatments.
Radiation. Radiation can help relieve any cancer symptoms.
The five-year survival rate at this stage is around 8%.
Recurring colon cancer. This is when colon cancer comes back after treatment. The cancer may come back in the original area of the colon, or appear in another organ. It most often appears in the liver and is most common in people who were treated for more advanced stages of colon cancer.