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Stages of Colon Cancer: March 5, 2011

Cancer. It comes in many stages and when it comes to colon cancer, the stages determine the treatment. "The size of tumor, whether it's spread through the bowel wall, whether it's gotten to a lymph node, or whether it has spread to the liver," says Dr. Nick Sharma, a gastroenterologist on the Lee Memorial Health System medical staff. "It comes back to early detection. You want to catch it at Stage 1 because that is a surgical treatment. A piece of bowel is resected and you are done."

Those diagnosed with Stage 1 have a reoccurrence rate of less than 5%. Stage 2 and 3 are a bit more difficult. "Stage 2 and 3 require, depending on where they are in the rectum, they require radiation and chemotherapy. And their survivor rates have been improving every year." Stage 4 cancers are often considered incurable. That's when the cancer has spread to the bladder, rectum, and distant organs like the bones.

Dr. Sharma emphasizes that screening methods are making it easier to detect cancer quicker. However, it's up to patients to take the initiative. "After doing one of these tests, a colonoscopy, you remove the colon polyp, you are done. There is no surgery or anything. There's some screening involved maybe 3 years later or 5 years later, depending on the type of polyp."

It's important to note that there are no symptoms that may suggest someone has colon cancer which is why screenings are essential. Men and women should begin screening at age 50. If there's a family history of colon cancer, screening should begin at age 40.