Stage 4 colon cancer describes the stage in the disease when the cancer has spread beyond the colon itself. Another term for stage 4 cancer is metastatic cancer.
Making Important Decisions About Your Stage 4 Colon Cancer Care
Unfortunately, in most cases, stage 4 colon cancer is not considered curable. However, it can be treated. People can live many months and even years with stage 4 colon cancer. How long a person lives after the diagnosis depends on many things, including how the colon cancer cells are behaving, where the colon cancer has spread, and how a person responds to available treatments.
How Much Information Do You Want About Your Stage 4 Colon Cancer Prognosis?
Among the first things you will discuss with your health care team is how much information you want about your prognosis. Prognosis refers to the possible course of disease and how much time you have. Some people want very specific information regarding how long they might live with stage 4 colon cancer. Other people prefer not to know these details.
Even if you want as much information as possible, keep in mind that predicting how long someone will live with stage 4 colon cancer is not exact. Your doctor may give you a range of time he or she expects you will live. This is his or her best guess, which is based on your particular case and on your doctor's medical experience. Everyone is different.
Also remember that situations change. Some people live much longer than expected. Others live for a shorter time. And some doctors will not give predictions about how long a person will live with stage 4 colon cancer, because they simply do not know.
The most important thing to know is that you can learn as much or as little as you want about your prognosis. It is up to you. Be sure to make what you want to know (or don't) clear to the doctor.
What Does Your Family Want to Know?
When making your decision about details, of course, it can be important to think about those who love you and may help care for you. Many family members want complete information about how long a loved one may live after being diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. Other family members may find this information very upsetting. They may not want to hear it.
Make sure your doctor knows who in your family wants (or needs) complete information and who does not. Your doctor can even make a note in your chart describing your goals for information sharing about your cancer treatment. This way, everyone on the health care team will be on the same page during appointments.
Being diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer can make you feel out of control. Knowing your options regarding information sharing about your cancer, your treatment decisions, and your end of life care will help you move forward at a difficult time.
National Institute on Aging. "What is the difference between an advance directive and a living will?" Accessed: July 10, 2010. http://www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/LongDistanceCaregiving/chapter19.htm
National Cancer Institute. "Coping with Advanced Cancer." Accessed: July 11, 2010. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/advancedcancer/page2