March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a chance for you to learn a little more about one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers and the five colon cancer stages.
According to the American Cancer Society, excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. It is also the second leading cause of death from cancer. Colon cancer affects people in all racial and ethnic groups and is most often found in people age 50 and older.
Colorectal cancer kills more than 50,000 people each year. Surgery and chemotherapy are treatment options, so let’s review the stages of colon cancer and find out how you can prevent it.
Colon Cancer Stages: Stage 0
Stage 0 colon cancers have not grown beyond the inner lining of the colon. Surgery to take out the cancer is typically all that is needed. This can be done, in most cases, by removing the polyp (polypectomy) during your colonoscopy. If the tumor is too big, part of the colon may be removed.
Colon Cancer Stages: Stage I
Stage I colon cancers have grown into the layers of the colon wall, but have not spread outside the colon wall itself (or into the nearby lymph nodes).
If the polyp is removed completely during your colonoscopy, with no cancer cells at the edges, no other treatment may be needed.
Colon Cancer Stages: Stage II
Many stage II colon cancers have grown through the wall of the colon, and possibly into nearby tissue, but they have not yet spread to the lymph nodes.
Surgery to remove the section of the colon containing the cancer, along with nearby lymph nodes, may be the only treatment needed. Your doctor may also recommend chemotherapy if there is a high chance the cancer can come back.
Colon Cancer Stages: Stage III
Stage III colon cancers have spread to nearby lymph nodes, but they have not yet spread to other parts of the body.
Surgery and chemotherapy will be needed to treat the cancer.
Colon Cancer Stages: Stage IV
Of all the stages of colon cancer, Stage IV colon cancers are the most serious. In this stage, the cancer has spread from the colon to distant organs and tissues. Colon cancer most often spreads to the liver, but it can also spread to other places such as the lungs, brain, and lymph nodes.
In most cases, surgery is unlikely to cure these cancers. If the tumors are too large, chemo will be chemotherapy will be given. If this shrinks the tumors, surgery may be tried to remove them.
Colorectal Cancer Screening
The good news is colon cancer is preventable. A colonoscopy is a test designed to find cancer-causing polyps on your colon. Your doctor can remove them, which will keep them from growing and developing into cancer.
Men over 50 should get a colonoscopy every 10 years, unless you have a family history or other risk factors – in which case, your doctor may recommend earlier and more frequent screenings.
Starting at age 50, women should begin getting screened for colorectal cancer, typically with a colonoscopy.
Talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns you may have about your current or future health. The typical screening schedule may vary depending on your specific health situation, which is why maintaining regularly scheduled physicals is so important.
Another way to stay one step ahead of a potential health problem is by knowing your numbers. Download our free guide to learn how you can track things like your cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure.