Colon Cancer Treatment: What You Need to Know
Today, there are more colon cancer treatment options available -- and many may offer new hope for patients.
Surgery: The Gold Standard continued...
Compared to previous decades, doctors now know more about how to make a surgery successful. Operating techniques have improved, too.
"It used to be that surgeons made a long incision and used their hands," says Roberto Bergamaschi, MD, chief of the division of colon and rectal surgery at Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York. Now, more and more doctors use laparoscopic surgery, making several small incisions in the abdomen rather than one large cut. Some colon cancer surgeries may be done with a robot. In those cases, a doctor sits at a control panel and operates robotic arms to perform the procedure. With both methods, "there is usually less pain afterward and a lower risk of post-operation infection and abdominal hernia," Bergamaschi says.
Keep in mind that the doctor who operates on you is as important as the technique he uses. "You want to see a surgeon who regularly does colon cancer surgery -- not a general surgeon. Be sure to ask your surgeon if they work with a multi-disciplinary team that includes oncologists and radiation oncologists who will meet together to discuss your case and your treatment options," Dietz says.
Deciding What's Next
While your doctor may have given you some idea how advanced your cancer is before surgery, "The real staging is done after the operation," says Lawrence Leichman, MD, director of the GI Cancer Program at NYU Langone's Perlmutter Cancer Center in New York. "Once you're staged, that's when the rubber meets the road and colon cancer experts, like oncologists, help you make a treatment plan."
To determine how advanced your cancer is, doctors do a CT scan of your chest, abdomen, and pelvis. They look to see if disease has spread to other areas, like your liver, lungs, and lymph nodes. Based on this and the size of your tumor, they'll diagnose you with stage I, II, III, or IV cancer. Then, your medical team may suggest one or a combination of the following:
No treatment. If you have very small tumors that are removed during surgery, doctors may decide to take a "watch and wait" approach. They'll monitor you for new signs of cancer.