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Stage 4 Colon Cancer

An Overview

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Updated: July 5, 2008

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Illustration by Donna Myers © 2007

There are five stages of colon cancer (0-4). This staging system reflects where the cancer went when no one was looking. In general, the earlier the stage, the easier the cancer is to treat. (Learn more about colon cancer staging.)

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 8-15% of people with stage 4 colon cancer are still alive five years after their diagnosis. (Learn more about colon cancer survival rates.)

Want to Talk About Stage 4 Colon Cancer?

If you'd like to talk to other people about stage 4 colon cancer, please visit the Colon Cancer Forum. There's a Stage 4 Colon Cancer folder where you can post questions, concerns, or comments.

Related Articles:

Sources:

Cancer Facts and Figures 2005. American Cancer Society. 16 Aug. 2006 [http://www.cancer.org/docroot/STT/content/STT_1x_Cancer_Facts__Figures_2005.asp].

Cancer Statistics in Japan '05: Survival Rates by Site and Clinical Stage. National Cancer Center. 16 Aug. 2006 [http://www.ncc.go.jp/en/statistics/index.html].

Colon Cancer (PDQ): Treatment: Stages of Colon Cancer. National Cancer Institute. 16 Aug. 2006 [http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/colon/Patient/page2].

Colorectal Cancer Facts and Figures - Special Edition 2005. American Cancer Society. 16 Aug. 2006 [http://www.cancer.org/docroot/STT/content/STT_1x_Colorectal_Cancer_Facts_and_Figures_-_Special_Edition_2005.asp].

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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