What to know after a colon cancer diagnosis
Colorectal cancer (often shortened simply to colon cancer) is the fourth-most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, and it is estimated that around 150,000 Americans are diagnosed each year. While the average age of diagnosis is 66, young adults are getting diagnosed in higher numbers every year, and researchers are still unsure as to why.
Because the symptoms of colon cancer are often not present until it has grown or spread, the best defense against colon cancer is early screening. By getting regularly tested, it is possible to discover colon cancer earlier and potentially have a better prognosis.
For individuals who have been diagnosed, understanding what comes next can be helpful. Below, we’ve included key information that may be useful after a colon cancer diagnosis, including how the condition is staged, what survival rates look like, and common options for treatment. Keep reading to learn more.
How colon cancer is staged
Once an individual is diagnosed with colon cancer, doctors will do further testing to find out the extent of the cancer, which is known as the stage. Tests for staging colon cancer typically include abdomen, pelvis, and chest imaging to determine the location and size of the cancer. In some cases, surgery may be required to gain further insights.
Colon cancer survival rates
After a colon cancer diagnosis, it is common for individuals to look at statistics and online resources to learn more about their prognosis. While statistics can help a doctor and patient make informed decisions about a treatment plan, it is important to remember that every case is unique, and many factors may influence a person’s lived experience with colon cancer.
In most cases, cancer statistics are presented as relative, five-year survival rates, due to the risk of recurrence significantly decreasing after five years. For all colon cancer patients, regardless of stage, the five-year relative survival rate is 64% — a significant increase from the 1975 survival rate of 50%. When looking at colon cancer stages, the survival rates are as follows:
- Stage 1 and 2 colon cancer: 89.9% five-year relative survival rate
- Stage 3 colon cancer: 71.3% five-year relative survival rate
- Stage 4 colon cancer: 14.2% five-year relative survival rate
When considering these numbers, it is important to note that they represent an overall average and look quite different in minority communities. For example, the Black population not only has the highest rate of colon cancer out of any ethnic group, and they are also about 40% more likely to die from colon cancer than any other population.
Colon cancer treatment options
For patients considering the options for colon cancer treatment, there are several types available. There are both standard treatments, and potential new treatments that are only available to those participating in a clinical trial, both of which will be discussed below. The current types of standard treatments in use are:
This treatment is commonly used across all stages of colon cancer. During surgery, doctors will remove as much of the cancer as they are able to, either by local excision or through a resectioning of the colon. After surgery, patients typically undergo chemotherapy or radiation therapy to target any remaining cancerous cells.
This is the use of a special type of probe equipped with electrode-killing cancer cells. This is sometimes inserted directly through the skin, or done through an abdominal incision.
Also called cryotherapy, this treatment uses an instrument to freeze and destroy cancerous tissues.
One of the most familiar colon cancer treatments, chemotherapy is the use of drugs to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. The type and administration method of chemotherapy will depend on the stage of the colon cancer at the time of diagnosis.
Radiation, which is sometimes used in tandem with chemotherapy, uses high-energy x-rays and other types of radiation to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. This can be done either through external or internal administration, which depends on the severity of the cancer.
This treatment method uses drugs to identify and attack specific cancer cells, which can cause less harm to the normal body cells when compared to chemotherapy or radiation. Targeted therapies for colon cancer include monoclonal antidobides, angiogenesis inhibitors, and protein kinase inhibitors. There are several approved types of these therapies, and others are consistently being studied.
A type of biologic therapy, immunotherapy uses the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer by equipping substances made by the body or in the lab. This is typically done through immune checkpoint inhibitors or PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors.
Colon cancer clinical trials
For some patients, participating in a clinical trial may be an important part of their treatment plan. Studies are currently underway to discover potentially new treatments for colon cancer that may be better than the current standard options for individuals, and through participating, patients can receive access to these cutting-edge technologies. Additionally, volunteering for a clinical trial can be a great way to advance the future of medical breakthroughs in the colon cancer space. To learn more about what trials are currently recruiting, click the button below to get started.