Colon and rectal cancer are cancers that involve the lowest part of the digestive system: the large intestine and the rectum.Tests that monitor or screen for colorectal cancer are important tools in finding colon and rectal cancer at an early stage.
The most common symptoms of colon and rectal cancer include:
A colonoscopy is often used to look inside the rectum and large intestine. Cancers growing within the large intestine and rectum can be seen during a colonoscopy, and a biopsy can be done, confirming the presence of a cancer.
Once a colorectal cancer is diagnosed, the next step is to determine its stage. Staging is a system used to describe the aggressiveness and spread of a cancer. The stage of a colorectal cancer is assigned based on:
Colorectal cancer stages range from stage I (cancer has invaded into but not through the entire wall of the intestine), to stage IV (the cancer has spread to distant organs, such as the liver). Treatment depends on disease stage.
Earlier stages of disease (stages I through III) are referred to as localized colorectal cancers and generally treated with surgery, with or without chemotherapy.
Stage IV cancer is called advanced colorectal cancer and is generally treated with chemotherapy; some patients may benefit from surgery of the primary tumor and sometimes of metastases. Treatment of stage IV disease is covered elsewhere.
The treatment of colon cancer usually involves surgery, and it may also involve chemotherapy; radiation therapy is only rarely needed.
The initial treatment of colon cancer usually involves surgery.During the surgery, the cancerous part of the colon and surrounding tissues are removed. The lymph nodes within this surrounding tissue are examined under a microscope to determine if the cancer has spread beyond the colon.
In most people, the two ends of the colon can be reconnected immediately after the cancerous part has been removed. If this can be done, it means that you will continue to have bowel movements normally, through your rectum and anus.
Chemotherapy is a treatment given to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. Even after a colon cancer has been completely removed with surgery, cancer cells can remain in the body, increasing the risk of the cancer coming back. In some people, chemotherapy can eliminate these cancer cells and increase the chance of cure.
Most rectal cancers are treated with a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy; as with colon cancers, treatment is chosen based upon disease stage.
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