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Over 100,000 new cases of colon cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths, although researchers are hoping the death rate will fall with greater use of diagnostic tests like colonoscopy. Colon cancer kills nearly 50,000 Americans each year. There are a number of treatment options available that you and your doctor will evaluate based on the location and severity of your colon cancer.
Colon cancer is most common in older adults over the age of 50 and in those with a personal history of colon polyps, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The most common symptoms of colon cancer include bloody stools, frequent diarrhea or constipation. The long-term outlook for this disease is best when the cancer is caught early, before it has spread beyond the inner layers of the colon.
In this circumstance, it is quite possible to live for five years of more. The five-year survival rate drops to 65 percent if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and plummets to 8 percent if the cancer has spread to other organs.
Surgery is the most common treatment for colon cancer in stages 0 and I and is usually used in addition to radiation and chemotherapy in later stages. Most surgeries for colon cancer involve the removal of the cancerous section of the colon. In some cases, the surgical team can reattach the colon, as in anterior resection surgeries, and the patient will maintain normal digestive function after recovery.
However, some surgeries will require a colostomy, especially in patients whose cancer is located near the anus. This is a procedure that connects a small bag worn outside the body to the digestive system to dispose of bodily waste.
External beam radiation therapy may be used to reduce the size of colon tumors before surgery, or to kill any remaining cancer cells that remain after surgical removal. This type of treatment uses x-ray radiation to kill cancer cells, ideally with little damage to the surrounding tissues. Chemotherapy is often used about a month after surgery to target cancer cells that have spread beyond the colon.
It is an extensive treatment, sometimes lasting up to a year, and is usually administered via oral medications or injections. Radiation and chemotherapy are usually used with surgery to treat colon cancer in stages II, III and IV.
Laparoscopic surgery is less invasive than traditional surgical treatments for colon cancer. This type of surgery is performed with specialized instruments and video cameras inserted through very small incisions in the abdomen. The smaller incisions lead to less pain and recovery time for patients, although the surgery may take longer to perform.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that recurrence and survival rates were similar for stage III patients treated with laparoscopic surgery as compared to those who underwent traditional surgeries.
Biological therapy, also known as immunotherapy, is an experimental treatment for colon cancer that is usually performed in clinical or research trials. It involves stimulating the patient's immune system to kill cancer cells after surgery, according to the NCI. It can take a number of forms, including injections of biological response modifiers to increase the effectiveness of the immune system or substances that will increase red and white blood cell production.
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