What is Stage 4 Colon Cancer?
When cancer develops in the large intestine, it is referred to as colon cancer. In its beginning stage, there are nonthreatening clumps termed as adenomatous polyps which in time may develop into cancer. This is the reason why regular screening should be performed to identify these polyps and have them identified and removed before they become life-threatening.
Stage 4 colon cancer is an advanced stage of this condition and is commonly termed as metastatic cancer. When we say stage 4 in colon cancer, then we should also understand that this stage may be different for every individual. Stage 4 colon cancer means it has spread or metastasized beyond the colon. Treatment is given depending on the organs that it has spread, the medical conditions of the person, age and general health of the individual.
Symptoms for Stage 4 Colon Cancer
While symptoms may show up in most individuals, it is not necessary that these symptoms occur in every individual. This is why regular screening tests help in determining health problems. Patients with Stage 4 Colon cancer usually show these symptoms:
- Diarrhea or constipation is quite common amongst the patients suffering from colon cancer. Some may also show signs of simple gastroenteritis which is not going away.
- Dark red or blackish color blood in the stool
- Sudden weight loss; even though the patient hasn’t changed their exercising habits or their regular diet plan – there is a sudden drop in weight by about 10 pounds.
- Thin and long stool resembling a pencil – this indicates that something is blocking the colon.
- Bloating accompanied with abdominal pain – the tumors in the colon prevent your system from emptying your bowels which makes you feel bloated and also causes pain in the abdomen.
- Feeling weak, tired and nauseated is also among the symptoms seen in individuals suffering from colon cancer. If there is bleeding in tumor it deprives your body of iron and then the body usually feels weak and tired.
When colon cancer spreads, it reaches out to the other organs in the body – liver, bones, peritoneum and even your lungs. Depending on the part to which the colon cancer has spread there could be different symptoms. The symptoms seen at this stage of colon cancer are:
- Bones: Broken bones, pain, pain in the neck/back, loss of appetite because of augmented levels of calcium in blood, constipation, weak/numb legs and sometimes arms.
- Liver: Pain in the abdomen, weight loss, fever, jaundice, itching, swelling in legs, loss of appetite and fatigue.
- Peritoneum: Sudden weight gain/loss, pain in abdomen and loss of appetite.
- Lungs: Blood in mucus, chronic cough, weight loss, chest pain and breathing problem.
How is Stage 4 Colon Cancer Tested?
Besides asking several questions about your health and symptoms, the health physician will ask for certain tests to be done to confirm stage 4 colon cancer.
- Colonoscopy –The procedure could last up to an hour. Before performing colonoscopy, you will be given local anesthesia. The doctor uses a colonoscope or a long flexible tube to insert the rectum. This thin tube-like device has a small camera attached to its tip which lets the doctor view the abnormalities in the colon. The colonoscope is flexible and can bend so the doctor can check the colon properly. At times the doctor will also remove a small piece of tissue from the colon for further examination.
- If required the doctor can also perform a biopsy – In this process, the polyps can be removed without having the patient to undergo a separate operation.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI – This is an effective way to see the entire structure of your organs. The radio waves and strong magnets help in revealing the area where cancer has spread in the body.
- Ultrasound – An ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of the organs and is usually done when to check if the colon cancer has spread in the liver or pelvis area in the patients.
- X-Ray of the Chest – This is for the doctor to check and confirm if cancer has spread to your lungs.
- Computed Tomography Scan – A Computed Tomography Scan or CT scan is more powerful than a chest X-Ray. At times the doctors inject the patient with intravenous contrast commonly referred to as dye. It is a clear fluid which helps in highlighting the areas of the body that is being examined. There of course are several questions that you need to answer before you get injected with intravenous contrast.
Treatments of Stage 4 Colon Cancer
Depending on the area in which the colon cancer has spread the doctor advises different treatments. With the right treatment, good medicines and care patients with stage 4 colon cancer can add to their years.
- Radiation – Powerful x-rays are used to kill the cancerous cells in radiation. Although it doesn’t cure cancer but it shrinks it and does offer some relief in the patient suffering from various symptoms. There are different types of radiation which include brachytherapy, selective internal radiation therapy or SIRT, stereotactic radiation therapy and intraoperative radiation therapy.
- Surgery –Doctor will use surgery to remove a part of the liver, colon or lungs in which cancer has spread. The lymph nodes around the infected organs are also removed.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy uses either pills or tube pierced in the veins to inject with medicine. The process may be used to kill the cancerous cells, shrink them before surgery or after surgery to ensure that the cancer cells are destroyed in case something is left. Chemo is powerful and has a lot of side effects, but it is also one of the most effective treatments.
- Other treatments and therapies for stage 4 colon cancer include ablation and cryotherapy, kinase inhibitors, EGRF inhibitors, anti-angiogenesis drugs and immune checkpoint inhibitors.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, then get a good doctor, listen to his advice, take medicine and treatments on time and lead a healthy lifestyle.