For people with metastatic colon cancer, the future may feel overwhelming and hopeless. If cancer already has spread beyond the colon to other organs at the time of diagnosis, the often-quoted 5-year survival rate is low, at around 8%. However, these statistics are based on people who were diagnosed many years ago. Fortunately, treatments and the outlook for metastatic colon cancer have improved greatly in the last few years
Recent research out of Japan adds more good news to the picture for those living with metastatic colon cancer. Researchers studied 113 colon cancer patients who had undergone lung surgery, referred to as complete resection, to remove colon cancer that had spread to the lungs.
For patients who had a level of CEA, a protein produced by colon cancer, below 5 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) in their blood and who did not have cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes from the lung tumors, the 5-year survival rate after lung surgery was 94%. The 7-year survival rate was 79%. Amazingly, aspects of the primary colon cancer cells called pathologic features, previous surgery to remove colon cancer that had spread to the liver, and additional lung surgeries did not affect survival.
What Does This Mean?
This is very promising news and may offer some comfort to patients living with metastatic colon cancer. The Japanese study suggests that even after colon cancer has spread to the liver and the lungs, having a surgery to remove the tumors can greatly improve survival rates, leading to more meaningful years of life. This type of surgery also may provide more time during which new drugs can be discovered and tested, possibly improving survival further.
The longer a person with metastatic cancer lives, the more likely that he or she will be around to benefit from new medical advances designed to turn cancer into a manageable, chronic disease, not something that greatly shortens life. Along with better and longer life, the surgery study also offers something that all cancer survivors need and deserve to have: Hope for the future.