Colon cancer, or colorectal cancer, involves the growth of one or more tumors in the large intestine and rectum. As colorectal cancer is both preventable and treatable, it is important to recognize the symptoms:
- A change of bowel habits
- Blood in the stool
- Diarrhea, constipation, or a feeling that the bowel has not completely voided
- Unusually narrow stools
- Recurrent gas pain, bloating, or intestinal cramping
- Weight loss that cannot be accounted for
- Unusual fatigue
There are 5 stages of colon cancer, which the National Cancer Institute identifies as the following:
Stage 0 Carcinoma in Situ: abnormal pre-cancerous cells are found in the mucosal lining of the intestine, and have the potential to spread and turn into true cancer
Stage 1: cancer has formed from abnormal cells and spread into both the mucosa and sub-mucosa layers, and may have begun to spread into the muscle tissue
Stage 2 (Stage 1 + the following) 3 sub-stages:
- Stage 2A: cancer has spread through the muscle tissue and into the serosa, the outermost layer of the colon wall
- Stage 2B: cancer has spread through the serosa, but has not metastasized to other organs
- Stage 2C: cancer has spread into other organs
Stage 3 (Stage 2 + the following) 3 sub-stages:
- Stage 3A: cancer has spread into at least one but not more than three lymph nodes, or cancer cells have formed near the lymph nodes
- Stage 3B: cancer has spread to at least four but not more than six lymph nodes, or cancer has spread through the serosa and to no more than seven nearby lymph nodes
- Stage 3 C: cancer has spread to seven or more nearby lymph nodes, or has been found in tissue near the lymph nodes
Stage 4 (Stage 3 + the following) 2 sub-stages:
- Stage 4A: cancer has spread to either nearby organs or lymph nodes near the colon, and to at least one organ or lymph nodes at a distance from the colon
- Stage 4B: Cancer has spread to lymph nodes or organs near the colon, to one organ not near the colon or has perforated the abdominal wall lining
If colorectal cancer is diagnosed in its early stages, treatment leads to much better survival rates. The Colon Cancer Alliance cites the following survival rates:
- The five-year survival rate for colon cancer found at the local stage is 90%.
- The five-year survival rate for colon cancer found at the regional stage is 70%.
- The five-year survival rate for colon cancer found at the distant stage is 12%.
As colorectal cancer is very treatable, and as it is a disease whose incidence increases with age, having a routine colonoscopy is one of the most proactive ways to prevent or catch the disease in its early stages.