Colon and Rectal Cancer

The colon and rectum are parts of the digestive system. They form a long, muscular tube called the large intestine (also called the large bowel). The colon is the first 4 to 5 feet of the large intestine, and the rectum is the last several inches.

Colon cancer: Cancer that forms in the tissues of the colon (the longest part of the large intestine). Most colon cancers are adenocarcinomas (cancers that begin in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids).

Rectal cancer: Cancer that forms in the tissues of the rectum (the last several inches of the large intestine closest to the anus).

 

Stages of Colorectal Cancer:

 

Stage 0: The cancer is found only in the innermost lining of the colon or rectum. Carcinoma in situ is another name for Stage 0 colorectal cancer.

Stage I: The tumor has grown into the inner wall of the colon or rectum. The tumor has not grown through the wall.

Stage II: The tumor extends more deeply into or through the wall of the colon or rectum. It may have invaded nearby tissue, but cancer cells have not spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage III: The cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, but not to other parts of the body.

Stage IV: The cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver or lungs.

Recurrence: This is cancer that has been treated and has returned after a period of time when the cancer could not be detected. The disease may return in the colon or rectum, or in another part of the body.

 

Treatment for Colon and Rectal Cancer:

 

Depending on the location and stage, colorectal cancer may involve surgery, chemotherapy, biological therapy or radiation therapy. Some people have a combination of treatments. Colon cancer sometimes is treated differently from rectal cancer (see description below).

Treatment for Colon Cancer

Most patients with colon cancer are treated with surgery. Some people have both surgery and chemotherapy. Some with advanced disease get biological therapy. A colostomy is seldom needed for people with colon cancer. Although radiation therapy is rarely used to treat colon cancer, sometimes it is used to relieve pain and other symptoms.

Treatment for Rectal Cancer

For all stages of rectal cancer, surgery is the most common treatment. Some patients receive surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Some with advanced disease get biological therapy. About 1 out of 8 people with rectal cancer needs a permanent colostomy. Radiation therapy may be used before and after surgery. Some people have radiation therapy before surgery to shrink the tumor, and some have it after surgery to kill cancer cells that may remain in the area. At some hospitals, patients may have radiation therapy during surgery. People also may have radiation therapy to relieve pain and other problems caused by the cancer.

Clinical trials are available as a form of treatment for colorectal cancer. Search for clinical trials in Georgia.

Adapted from the National Cancer Institute's PDQ Database: http://www.cancer.gov/types/colorectal. (Accessed June 2016)