The Different Colon Cancer Stages

Colon cancer is a disease of your digestive system.

Like other illnesses, it is divided into different colon cancer stages.

The five colon cancer stages of this cancer are used to describe its progression and the effects on your body.

Learning how the disease develops is important when considering treatment options for yourself or a loved one.

There is always hope, but the sooner the cancer is discovered, the more your chances for a cure go up.

Let's jump right in, shall we?

Stage 0

In its initial stage, or stage 0, tiny groups of non-cancerous cells called adenomatous polyps attach to the innermost lining of your colon. You will most likely have few if any symptoms.

One of the most effective ways to detect the polyps is through a colonoscopy. During this procedure, a colonoscope, or long flexible tube equipped with a small camera, is inserted into your rectum and colon.

This allows your doctor can view your entire colorectal system on a video monitor. Any polyps or damaged tissue detected can be removed immediately with the colonoscope. This process is known as a polypectomy.

Another method used to screen for polyps and growths is procedure known as a flexible sigmoidoscopy. A slender, lighted instrument is inserted into your rectum, like in a colonoscopy.

But instead of inspecting your entire colon, the instrument is designed to examine your rectum and the last two feet of your colon, known as the sigmoid. Based on the outcome of the screening, you may undergo a polypectomy or further testing.

Stage 1

Stage 1 is also known as Dukes A colon cancer. At this level, the polyps have become cancerous and have moved from your colon’s inner lining and into the second and third layers.

As with Stage 0, you may exhibit no symptoms during stage 1, so a colonoscopy is the best option for detecting signs of cancer.  

The most common treatment for stage 1 is to remove the cancerous growths from your colon and the surrounding tissue. Treatment for this early stage of colon cancer has promising results, with 93% of patients surviving at least five years after diagnosis.

Stage 2

At stage 2, or Dukes B, the cancer develops into tumors that spread from the lining of your colon to its muscular wall. As a result, you may begin experiencing symptoms like:

  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Pain in your stomach
  • Blood in stools
  • Black stools
  • Gas and cramping
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss

Surgery is most common method for removing the tumors, although some patients may be advised to undergo chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Stage 3

Dukes B, or stage 3, means the cancer has spread from your colon to your lymph nodes, which help your body fight infection. At this point, you may develop symptoms like those listed in stage 2.

In addition to a colonoscopy, you may be given a stool blood test to detect the presence of blood in your feces, a common symptom of this stage of colon cancer. The results of this test can help your doctor determine a diagnosis.

After a diagnosis is made, you may be required to undergo additional procedures like a CT scan, MRI, chest x-ray, complete blood count, or lymph node biopsy. These tests can determine how much the disease has spread to other parts of your body.

Treatment at stage 3 consists of surgery to remove the tumors and affected lymph nodes, followed by chemotherapy. Depending on the severity of your case, radiation treatment may also be recommended. 

Patients receiving treatment for stage 3 colon cancer have a five-year survival rate of 56%.

Stage 4

Stage 4, or Dukes D colon cancer, represents the final progression of the disease. Cancer has spread from the colon and lymph nodes to other parts of your body, like your lungs or liver. Symptoms at this stage may be very evident.

Treatment begins with surgery to remove the tumors, lymph nodes and other affected tissues. Your colon may require a process known as surgical resection, where the damaged section of your large intestine is removed and the remaining healthy sections are reconnected.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also likely treatment options at this advanced stage. Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs stop cancer cells from growing, while radiation therapy uses high energy x-rays to kill them.

Due to the additional risks and complications of stage 4, the five-year survival rate of patients is between 8% and 5%.


There are many ways your doctor can screen you for the different colon cancer stages. 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.


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