Stage 4 Colon Cancer

An Overview of Stage 4 Colon Cancer

The different stages of colon cancer.
The different stages of colon cancer. Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

There are five stages of colon cancer (0-4), which mostly reflects whether and how far the cancer has spread. In general, the earlier the stage, the easier the cancer is to treat and the better the prognosis, or outlook, for recovery and survival.

Formerly known as Duke's D colon cancer, stage 4 colon cancer is the most advanced cancer stage. In general, stage 4 colon cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

Common destinations include the liver and the lungs.

Stage 4 Colon Cancer is Like an Escaped Prisoner

Think of your colon as a prison and the tumor as an inmate. The "prison" is fortified with five distinct layers, all of which help prevent that inmate from escaping: the mucosa, the submucosa, two thick muscle layers, and the serosa. However, there are pockets of vulnerability throughout the prison (blood vessels and lymph nodes). Hitting one is like having access to a highway.

In stage 4 colon cancer, the prisoner has generally tunneled through several layers of the prison, found the highway, and traveled to another town (usually the liver or lungs).

Treatment for Stage 4 Colon Cancer

Treatment for stage 4 colon cancer may require a surgical resection. In this procedure, a surgeon removes the section of the colon affected by the tumor and joins the remaining healthy sections together to form one long, healthy piece.

The use of chemotherapy and/or radiation to treat stage 4 colon cancer varies depending on lymph node involvement, where the tumor went (e.g., the liver, lungs, ovaries, or stomach), and how it's attached.

Survival Rate for Stage 4 Colon Cancer

A lot of things can influence colon cancer survival rates.

Stage is a major factor, but tumor location and country of residence have also been shown to impact survival. For example, a tumor in the right colon is often caught later because symptoms take longer to emerge, and in countries where early screening is relatively uncommon, tumors are caught later. Studies have also found that exercise may increase colon cancer survival rates.

In general, approximately 8 to 15 percent of people with stage 4 colon cancer are still alive five years after their diagnosis.


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O'Connell, Jessica and Maggard, Melinda. "Colon Cancer Survival Rates With the New American Joint Committee on Cancer Sixth Edition Staging." Journal of the National Cancer Institute 96.19 (Oct. 2004): 1420-1425. 16 Aug. 2006.

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