There are three main methods used to treat colon cancer. These are surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Successfully treating colon cancer often involves the use of two or three of these methods used in combination. The treatment plan depends upon the stage of the cancer, and how far it has spread.
The earliest stage of colon cancer is the easiest to treat. When it is confined to a simple polyp, it can be removed during a routine colonoscopy. When the cancer has invaded the colon, or spread throughout the body, it requires more extensive treatment.
Cancer that has grown into the colon wall is called invasive colon cancer. This is usually treated by surgically removing the cancer as well as some of the normal tissue surrounding it. If the colon cannot be reconnected, it may be necessary to create an opening on the abdominal wall for colon waste to pass through. This type of surgery is called a colostomy. Sometimes a colostomy is temporary, other times it may be permanent.
In some cases of advanced colon cancer, surgery is performed for palliative reasons only, and not as an attempt to cure the disease. For example, surgery may be indicated to unblock the colon or reduce pain. Treating colon cancer may involve other types of surgery too. It is common for colon cancer to spread to the liver. When the cancer affects the liver and colon only, the cancer may be surgically removed from the liver in an effort to cure the disease. Chemotherapy is usually indicated as well.
Chemotherapy involves using medications to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is often given after surgery to kill stray cancer cells. It is also used when the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other body organs. Chemotherapy can be used as an attempt to eradicate cancer or to simply slow its growth in order to manage pain or other medical complications.
Radiation is sometimes used when treating colon cancer. It is most commonly used when the cancer invades the rectum. Radiation and chemotherapy might be used together before surgery to shrink a tumor so it is easier to remove. They can also be used after surgery to kill any cells that may have been left behind.
Early detection is important to successfully treating colon cancer. Periodic colonoscopy examinations are recommended for people with a family history of colon cancer and for those over the age of 50. Colon cancer that is treated in the very early stages has a much higher survival rate than cancer that has had time to grow and shed cells.