Stage 4 colon cancer is the most advanced colon cancer stage. The stage of a cancer, usually 1 to 4, indicates how much the disease has spread. It often takes into account the size of the tumor, how deep it has penetrated, whether it has invaded nearby organs, if and how many lymph nodes it has metastasized to, and whether it has reached distant organs.

The staging of cancer is essential because the stage during diagnosis is the strongest predictor of survival. Additionally, recommended treatments are often changed based on the cancer stage. Generally, the earlier the stage, the easier the cancer is to treat. There are five stages of colon cancer, from stages 0 to 4.

In stage 0 colon cancer, the cancer is found only in the innermost lining of the colon. This is also called carcinoma in situ, which means the cancer only involves cells in the tissue in which it began and that has not yet spread. After surgery to remove polyps or cancer, no treatment is recommended. Meanwhile, in stage 1 colon cancer, the cancer has spread beyond the innermost tissue layer of the colon wall to the middle layers, but has not broken through the colon wall. Often, no treatment is recommended after surgery.

On the other hand, in stage 2, the cancer has grown completely through the colon or rectal wall but it has not yet spread to nearby lymph nodes. For this stage, chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be used after surgery in some cases. In stage 3, the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes but not to other organs. Again, chemotherapy or radiation is recommended after surgery.

In stage 4 colon cancer, distant metastasis has occurred. The cancer may have spread to nearby lymph nodes and to other parts of the body, like the liver, lungs, and bones.

Treatment for stage 4 colon cancer may require surgery wherein the section of the colon affected by the tumor is removed and the remaining healthy sections are joined together. Surgery to remove parts of other organs where the cancer may have spread, such as the liver, lungs, and ovaries, may also be needed.

If surgery is not an option, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may also be needed to treat stage 4 colon cancer, depending on lymph node involvement, where the tumor has spread, and how it is attached. Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, while radiation treatment uses radiation to kill cancer cells.

If the cancer has spread to the liver, treatment may involve radiofrequency ablation or cryosurgery. Radiofrequency ablation is a technique that uses a special probe with tiny electrodes that kill cancer cells, while in cryosurgery, an instrument is used to freeze and destroy abnormal tissues.

There are currently many factors that can influence colon cancer survival rates. Stage is a major factor. Still, tumor location has a large impact on survival. Generally, though, only eight to fifteen percent of patients with stage 4 colon cancer live for five years after their diagnosis.

At its early stage, colon cancer generally doesn’t show any symptoms. More advanced cancer stages, however, can cause any or all of the following:

  • A change in bowel habits
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Blood in the stool, either bright red or black
  • Narrowed, pencil-thick stools
  • Bloating, unexplainable fullness, or stomach cramps
  • Frequent gas pains
  • A feeling that the bowel is always full, even after movement
  • Unexplainable weight loss
  • Constant fatigue

Go to your doctor if you feel any of the above symptoms. Do not wait until you have stage 4 colon cancer.

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