Colon Cancer Stage 4:
Symptoms, Diagnosis & Survival

Colon cancer stage 4 is the most advanced form of a disease that strikes more than 100,000 people in the U.S. each year.

As the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the country, it’s important for you to learn its symptoms and causes, as well as final-stage treatment options.

This cancer of your digestive system usually begins with the formation of small harmless clumps of cells in your colon that may cause few or no symptoms.

However, in some cases, these cells known as adenomatous polyps become cancerous.
 
As the cancer develops into its second and third stages, the polyps grow into tumors that spread from the lining of your colon to the surrounding tissue.

Without treatment, the disease will progress to your lymph nodes and eventually your organs. At this level, it is considered stage four or Dukes D colon cancer.

Symptoms

Generally, small polyps in the large intestine, or colon, create few detectable symptoms. But if they become the cancerous and spread through your digestive system, you may experience symptoms like:

  • Changes in your bowel movements (including diarrhea or constipation)
  • Pain in your abdomen
  • Blood present during bowel movements
  • Black, tar-like stools
  • Gas and cramping
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss

Diagnosis

There are many ways your doctor can screen you for colon cancer. Although some forms of testing may seem unpleasant, the potential life-saving benefits outweigh any temporary discomfort or embarrassment. Common screening methods include:

Stool Blood Test—a stool sample is tested for the presence of blood. This can be done in a doctor’s office, or you may be given a kit to collect your stool at home, and instructed to return the sample to a laboratory for testing.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy—a slender, lighted instrument is used to examine the rectum and the last two feet of your colon, known as the sigmoid, for any polyps or cancer. If signs of the disease are found, your doctor may recommend additional tests.

Barium enema—your lower intestines are coated in a safe barium dye that will allow your doctor to detect any abnormalities during an x-ray. Further tests may be required if any suspicious growths are found.

Colonoscopy—a long flexible tube equipped with a small camera is inserted into your rectum and colon, so your doctor can view your entire colorectal system on a video monitor. Any polyps or larger growths that are found can be removed immediately and sent for analysis.

If you are diagnosed with colon cancer, your doctor may recommend additional tests like a CT scan, MRI, chest x-ray, complete blood count, or lymph node biopsy, to determine if the disease has spread to other parts of your body.

Rates of Survival

Survival rates for colon cancer have increased significantly in the past 15 years, due to advances in cancer treatment and the increase in the number of people getting screened for the disease.

In its early stages, colon cancer can be detected and successfully treated. According to the American Cancer Society, 93% of patients who are treated during the first stage of the disease survive at least five years after diagnosis.

The five-year survival rate for stage 2 of the disease is 73%, and 56% at stage 3. By stage 4, the cancer has spread extensively to other parts of the body. As a result, treatment is more challenging and the five-year survival rate decreases to 8%-15%.

Common Forms of Treatment

Surgery is the most common method used to treat colon cancer stage 4. In most cases, you may need a procedure known as surgical resection.

This involves removing the part of your colon that contains the tumors and connecting the remaining healthy sections.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are two other forms of treating this disease in its advanced stages.

In chemotherapy, drugs are used to stop cancer cells from growing, while radiation therapy involves high energy x-rays to kill them.


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