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Colorectal Cancer, Metastatic or Recurrent - What Happens

How cancer grows and spreads

Cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the body. These extra cells grow together and form masses, lumps, or tumors. In colorectal cancer, these growths usually start as harmless polyps camera.gif in the large intestine camera.gif. If polyps are not found and removed, some of them can turn into cancer.

If the cancer is allowed to keep growing, over time it will invade and destroy nearby tissues and then spread farther.

  • Colon cancer often spreads first to nearby lymph nodes. From there it may spread to other parts of the body, usually to the liver. It may also spread to the lungs, bones, or other organs in the body.
  • Rectal cancer may spread directly to the lungs, bypassing the liver.

Recurrent colorectal cancer occurs when the cancer begins to grow again months or years after treatment.

Survival rates

The long-term outcome, or prognosis, for colorectal cancer depends on how much the cancer has grown and spread. Experts talk about prognosis in terms of "5-year survival rates." This means the percentage of people who are still alive 5 years or longer after their cancer was found. It is important to remember that these are only averages. Everyone's case is different. And these numbers don't necessarily show what will happen to you.

The 5-year survival rate:

  • Is 69% for people whose cancer has spread to nearby organs or lymph nodes.1 This means that about 69 out of 100 people are still alive 5 years or longer after their cancer was discovered.
  • Is 12% for people whose cancer has spread farther away to other parts of their bodies. 1 This means that about 12 out of 100 people are still alive 5 years or longer after their cancer was discovered.

These numbers are taken from reports that were done at least 5 years ago, before newer treatments were available. So the actual chances of your survival are likely to be higher than these numbers.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: January 29, 2013
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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