In the United States, colon cancer is the third most common type of cancer. Doctors regularly screen for colon cancer by having their patients periodically undergo a colonoscopy; this is an important preventative health measure. Thankfully, most colon cancers are slow-growing and, in many cases, pre-cancerous growths, called polyps, can be found during a colonoscopy and removed before they become cancerous. If you are diligent about having periodic screenings, chances are that colon cancer will be caught at a very early stage, often before you have experienced any symptoms.
While the prognosis for colon cancer is often positive, if you are diagnosed with colon cancer, it is still a little daunting. As with nearly all cancers, treatment regimens may be very lengthy and can take their toll on your energy, your overall health, and your emotional well-being.
At Beacon Clinic, we provide our cancer patients with support throughout their cancer journey. One question that a lot of our patients have is how long they can expect to undergo treatment. Even though it may not sound encouraging, the fact is, the treatment timeline will vary from case to case depending on several factors, including the stage of cancer, the location of cancer, and the overall health of the patient. In order to get more individualized information, you should consult one of our cancer specialists for more specific guidelines. However, here is some general information that may help you get an idea of what is involved.
Early Stage Colon Cancer
Cancers are classified into five different stages. Stage 0 and Stage 1 represent early cancers that are very localized and haven’t spread to other parts of the body. When colon cancer is in these stages, it may be possible to resolve cancer completely with surgery. This is why early detection and frequent cancer screening are essential. Generally speaking, the sooner the cancer is found, the easier it is to treat, and the more likely it will be that the overall prognosis is positive. 92% of patients diagnosed with Stage 1 cancer will live beyond 5 years after the diagnosis. During these early stages, doctors will rely upon a colonoscopy to determine the best avenue for treatment.
In some cases, early-stage colon cancer can be treated with a single surgery procedure, although multiple sessions may be necessary. In addition to removing cancerous polyps, a surgeon may have to perform a colectomy, which is the resectioning, or removal, of part of the colon. When this is done, depending upon the size and location of the part of the colon that is removed, the surgeon will reconnect the healthy sections of the colon or rectum. This surgery is sometimes performed laparoscopically – that is, using a minimally invasive method.
If the section taken out makes it difficult or impossible to reconnect the colon, a patient may have to use a colostomy bag – a bag attached to the colon by a tube to the outside of the body, where wastes can be collected and removed. In some cases, this is a temporary measure, but it may also be permanent.
Recovery from the surgery may take a while. The first few days will require a lot of rest, and you will be uncomfortable. It will be two or three weeks before you can resume normal activities, and you should wait at least six weeks before trying to lift any weight. It may take up to twelve weeks to fully recover.
With any gastrointestinal cancer, it is important to adopt a healthy diet and make lifestyle changes after treatment in order to restore your health and help avoid the conditions which may have given rise to cancer. Beacon Clinic offers a variety of supportive services, including dietary services, to help rehabilitate patients after treatment.
Stage 2 and Beyond
At Stage 2, cancer has reached other tissues besides the colon where it originated but has not been detected in other parts of the body. Most commonly, this means that cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes. When the cancer is at Stage 2 (and sometimes at Stage 1, as a precaution) it is common to remove nearby lymph nodes as well as the cancerous portions of the colon during surgery. However, this does not necessarily mean that the issue is taken care of because lymph nodes can facilitate cancer spreading to other parts of the body. Consequently, for these higher stages, it is common for patients to have to undergo additional treatment besides surgery.
Chemotherapy is commonly the recommended treatment for Stage 2 colon cancer. At Beacon, we offer the latest chemotherapy treatments, including IV-administered chemotherapy on-site as well as oral chemotherapies for home use.
Chemotherapy treatment at Stage 2 or 3 will take at least a few months. The exact duration of treatment depends largely on how your body responds to the therapy, and your oncologists will perform regular checkups to monitor your progress to find out if the chemotherapy is effective. For these stages, the prognosis is still positive: 70% of patients diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer live more than 5 years beyond the diagnosis.
Beacon Clinic: Your Best Ally
Cancer of any type is one of the most challenging diseases to treat, both for patients as well as their doctors and other caregivers. Nevertheless, with the right support system, your odds of winning the battle increase. At Beacon Clinic, we have always prioritized patient well-being over everything else. We understand the value of a holistic approach to medicine. Many of our previous patients agree: Beacon does it better.
To learn more about the cancer treatments that are available at Beacon, or if you have a question about our other supportive services, we’re just a phone call away. If you have recently been diagnosed with cancer, call Beacon Clinic today, or visit us in Coeur d’Alene to schedule an appointment.