By Catherine Jones, M.D.
Once there is a diagnosis of colon cancer, tests are performed to determine if colon cancer is confined to the colon or has spread to other organs of the body. This process of testing and the results from the testing allow for the cancer to be staged. The stage of the disease has to be known in order to appropriately treat a person.
In a person with newly found colon cancer a CT scan may be performed. A CT scan outlines in picture form the details of all internal organs. The CT scan will show if cancer is limited to the colon only or has spread to other organs in the body. If the cancer has spread to other organs it is called metastatic disease.
If from the CT scan it is determined that the cancer is limited to the colon then the colon involved can be removed surgically. In addition to removing the colon, surrounding lymph nodes will also need to be removed. Cancer cells from the colon can spread to other organs of the body and this spread can be through the lymph nodes or blood vessels.
If after surgery it is determined that cancer involves the lymph nodes then a few weeks following surgery chemotherapy is recommended to decrease the risk of the colon cancer returning. In certain cases, chemotherapy may be recommended if there is no lymph node involvement. Chemotherapy is recommended if the cancer has widely spread to other organs.
Chemotherapy is typically given for six months if tumor involves the lymph nodes only. Chemotherapy is given for an undetermined and possibly indefinite time if there is metastatic disease.
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