Cancer Awareness

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The stages of colon cancer

While the death rates for colon cancer have declined considerably over the last 20 years, it remains the third-deadliest cancer among both men and women in the United States and a considerable threat overseas. But when discovered and treated early, colon cancer has a five-year survival rate of roughly 90 percent. Upon receiving a colon cancer diagnosis, men and women will be informed which stage their disease has entered, and that stage may dictate treatment and influence the diagnosing physician's prognosis. The following are the stages of colon cancer.

* Stage 0: Also referred to as carcinoma in situ, stage 0 colon cancer is diagnosed when abnormal cells have been found in the mucosa, which is the innermost layer of the colon wall. These abnormal cells may become cancer and eventually spread.

* Stage I: When a diagnosis of stage I colon cancer has been made, this means that the cancer has formed in the mucosa and spread to the submucosa, a layer of tissue beneath the mucosa. In addition, a stage I diagnosis could mean the cancer has spread to the muscle layer of the colon wall.

* Stage II: Stage II colon cancer is broken down into three categories: stage IIA, stage IIB and stage IIC. A stage IIA colon cancer diagnosis means the cancer has spread through the muscle layer of the colon wall to the wall's outermost layer, which is known as the serosa.

A stage IIB colon cancer diagnosis means the cancer has spread through the serosa of the colon but has not spread to nearby organs.

When a person has been diagnosed with stage IIC colon cancer, their cancer has spread through the serosa and to nearby organs.

* Stage III: Stage III colon cancer also is divided into categories. A stage IIIA diagnosis can mean the cancer has spread through the mucosa to the submucosa and may have spread to the muscle layer of the colon wall. In addition, a stage IIIA diagnosis means the cancer has spread to at least one but not more than three nearby lymph nodes or that cancer cells have formed in tissues near the lymph nodes. But a stage IIIA diagnosis also is made when the cancer has spread through the mucosa to the submucosa and to at least four but not more than six nearby lymph nodes.

A stage IIIB diagnosis means cancer has spread through the muscle layer of the colon to the serosa or has spread through the serosa but not to nearby organs. Stage IIIB also means the cancer has been found in at least one but not more than three nearby lymph nodes or cancer cells have formed in tissue near the lymph nodes. If none of those signs are present, a doctor may still diagnose stage IIIB colon cancer if the cancer has spread to the muscle layer of the colon wall or to the serosa and to at least four but not more than six nearby lymph nodes. But a stage IIIB diagnosis also is made when cancer has spread through the mucosa to the submucosa and possibly to the muscle layer of the colon wall and to seven or more nearby lymph nodes.

A stage IIIC colon cancer diagnosis means the cancer has spread through the serosa but has not spread to nearby organs, though it has spread to at least four but not more than six nearby lymph nodes. When such evidence is not present, a doctor still may diagnose stage IIIC colon cancer if the cancer has spread through the muscle layer of the colon wall to the serosa or if it has spread through the serosa, but not to nearby organs, and to seven or more nearby lymph nodes. Cancer that has spread through the serosa and to nearby organs is also indicative of stage IIIC colon cancer, but that diagnosis would not be made unless a doctor also notices the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or that cancer cells have formed in tissue near those lymph nodes.

Stage IV: Stage IV colon cancer is divided into stage IVA and stage IVB. Stage IVA means the cancer may have spread through the colon wall and to nearby organs or lymph nodes. This diagnosis also means that the cancer has spread to one organ that is not near the colon or that is has spread to a distant lymph node.

Stage IVB colon cancer is diagnosed when doctors suspect the cancer may have spread through the colon wall and to nearby organs or lymph nodes. In addition, this diagnosis is made when cancer has spread to more than one organ that is not near the colon or has spread to the lining of the abdominal wall.

As with any cancer, early detection is often the key to surviving colon cancer. Men and women can visit www.cancer.gov to learn more about colon cancer diagnosis and risk factors.