Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. In fact, according to the Fight Colon Cancer organization, colon cancer is the number two leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women combined. 137,000 men and women will be diagnosed this year and 50,000 of those people—nearly half—will die from it.
Imagine you or a loved one sitting in a doctor’s office. You’ve just heard the words that so many people are forced to hear: “You have cancer.” Even if you’ve been expecting this your whole life—everyone in your family has cancer—you are shocked. The news is sudden. After a while, the new knowledge wears off and settles in, and the questions start to form. The lead one being: “So now what?” Do you decide to fight your circumstances?
The path to recovery is unique for everyone. First of all, the variety of treatment you are prescribed greatly reflects both your stage of cancer and your overall health. The American Cancer Society outlines the treatments to be the following:
Stage 0 means that no cancer cells have grown beyond the inner lining of the colon. The usual recommended treatment for this stage is simply surgery to have it removed. In some cases, if the tumor is larger, the treatment is to remove a part of the colon.
Stage I colon cancer occurs when the cancer cells have just embedded themselves into the wall of the colon. It also includes when cancer cells are found in polyps. Again, surgery is the generally recommended treatment. Usually the surgery will be sufficient to rid the body of cancerous cells; however, the surgery is more intense than that recommended for Stage 0. Doctors will perform a colectomy, which is the partial removal of the colon.
Stage II occurs when the cancer have in fact eaten through the wall of the colon, but have not yet spread to lymph nodes. Doctors will perform surgery to remove the cancer, and oftentimes will recommend a course of chemotherapy. However, there is a discrepancy on whether or not to go through with chemo in this stage. It will depend on what you and your doctor discuss and decide is the right treatment for you.
By Stage III, the previous stages have all occurred; in addition, the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. Depending on your overall health, your doctor will likely prescribe surgery that is oftentimes then followed by a course of radiation and chemotherapy in order to ensure the complete eradication of the cancerous cells.
Stage IV colon cancer means that the cancer has spread beyond the colon and has invaded other vital organs. At this point, it is usually unlikely that surgery will be able to help at the outset. Sometimes doctors will recommend chemotherapy to shrink the tumors so that they might be easier to remove surgically. The treatment is also dependent on where exactly the cells have metastasized. There are a variety of possible “targeted therapies” which will fight a specific area of cancer. Radiation may offer relief to pain, but by Stage IV it is oftentimes too late to seek a cure.
The best defense against cancer is to catch it early. Schedule your colon screening. Know your family history. Take care of your body by eating well and exercising regularly. The American Cancer Society has provided a list of facts on colon cancer and how to catch it early.