Surgery for Colon Cancer

A Resection Is The Most Common Form Of Surgery For Colon Cancer

Resection Surgery
During a resection, diseased bowel tissue is removed, and healthy tissue is reattached. Image © A.D.A.M.

Receiving a diagnosis of colon cancer is certainly a shock and can be quite frightening. Colon cancer may be treated by various methods, including several types of surgery. Colon cancer tends to be closely associated with a colostomy, but colostomy surgery is not always used to treat colon cancer. In fact, it is a surgery that is called a resection that is the type of surgery that is done most often to treat colon cancer.

A resection surgery does involve removing part of the colon (the large bowel) but it tends to be less invasive than a 

The treatment that a patient and doctor choose to pursue for colon cancer will be based on the extent, or stage, of the cancer. For removing tumors due to colon cancer, resection surgery (sometimes called a partial or hemicolectomy) is the most common treatment.

About Resection Surgery

A resection is major surgery where a specialist surgeon, called a colorectal surgeon, enters the abdomen through a large incision in the abdominal wall. The diseased section of the colon or rectum is removed along with lymph nodes and part of the healthy colon that is next to the part of the colon affected by the cancer. Next, the two healthy ends of the bowel are reattached. The surgeon's goal will be for the patient to return to the most normal bowel function possible. This means that the surgeon will take out as little of the large intestine as possible.

Some of the tissue removed from the lymph nodes is taken to a pathology lab and examined under a microscope by a pathologist. The pathologist will look for signs of cancer in the lymph tissue. Lymph nodes conduct a fluid called "lymph" to cells in the body. Cancer cells tend to gather in the lymph nodes, so they are a good indicator for determining how far the cancer has spread.

The removal of lymph nodes also reduces the risk of cancer reoccurring.

In some cases where a significant amount of the colon or rectum is diseased, a reconnection of the healthy bowel (also called anastomosis) may not be possible. In these cases, a colostomy may be necessary. In many cases a surgeon will have a good idea of how the surgery will go before starting, but sometimes when the surgeon has a chance to see how the cancer has progressed, a change might be made during the procedure. Patients who have concerns about how their surgery will progress should talk to their oncologist and their colorectal surgeon and ask if there's a possibility for the surgery to be more extensive than originally thought. 

Colostomy Surgery

A colostomy is created when part of the large intestine is inserted through an opening in the abdominal wall. The part of the colon that is on the outside of the body is called a stoma (Greek for "mouth"). The stoma is pink, like gum tissue, and does not feel pain. An external bag which is worn on the abdomen is then necessary to collect waste.

The bag is emptied several times a day and changed on a regular basis.

Most colostomies that are done to treat colon cancer are temporary and are only necessary to allow the colon to heal properly after surgery. During a second surgery the healthy ends of the colon are reattached together and the stoma is closed up. A permanent colostomy is only necessary about 15 percent of the time in the case of colon cancer.

Other treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation may be used in conjunction with surgery. After surgery, regular check-ups will be necessary to ensure that the cancer has not reoccurred.


American Cancer Society. "Surgery for colorectal cancer." 30 Jul 2013. 26 Aug 2013.

National Cancer Institute. "Colon Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)." National Institutes of Health. 16 May 2013. 26 Aug 2013.

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