When Jennifer Marrone of San Diego, CA, was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at age 30, she didn't just want to know what her treatment options were. "I wanted to know how they were going to affect my life," says Marrone, who's now 35. She was pleased when her oncologist at UC San Diego Health gave her several suggestions for medications and lifestyle changes, like adopting a diet free of animal protein. He also had copies of research studies to back up each potential therapy and treatment.
"I knew from reading research online and talking to others with colon cancer that treatment had improved a lot in the past decade," Marrone says. She chose to be treated with surgery, several types of chemotherapy, and non-chemo medications called targeted therapies. She's had no signs of disease for three years. "When I talk to people with colon cancer, I urge them to ask their medical team, What are all of my options?And how will [each] impact me? Remember, you're a patient, not a protocol," she says.
Inside your abdominal cavity is the long, tubular digestive tract. The second part of this tube -- the large intestine -- is composed of the colon, which stretches 4 feet to 6 feet, and the rectum, which is only 4 inches to 6 inches long.
The inner lining of this "colorectal tube" can be a fertile breeding ground for small tumors, called polyps (Figure 1). About a quarter of all adults in the U.S. older than age 50 will have at least one colorectal polyp. Most colorectal cancers develop from polyps...
Colon cancer treatments that weren't available 10 years ago -- or even three or four -- are now an option for many patients. "Today, we have more treatments that can save lives and, in cases where cancer can't be cured, can significantly extend life expectancy and improve overall quality of life," says David Dietz, MD, vice chair of colorectal surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Here's what you need to know about proven treatments as well as newer therapies.
Surgery: The Gold Standard
Surgery is often the first step in treatment. It's how doctors remove the tumor and part of the colon. They may also remove lymph nodes at the same time. "Surgery is a crucial part of treatment for most patients with stage I, II, and III colon cancer, and many with stage IV," Dietz says.
If you have stage 0 or stage 1 cancer, your doctor may be able to remove tumors with a colonoscope -- a long, narrow tube that's inserted into the colon through the rectum.