Colon Cancer Treatment
Older people are more likely to develop malignant tumors, such as breast cancer and prostate cancer. Another of the quite frequent neoplasms in the elderly is colon cancer, whose treatment is so effective that it hasn’t changed in recent years.
This specific malignant tumor represents the fourth leading cause of cancer death in Western countries, being the second most common in women. It begins with tumors in the mucosa of the large intestine and rectum, which can become malignant over the years.
Colon cancer treatment will depend on the stage of the disease, however, surgery is one of the most effective techniques. It is usually combined with radiation therapy and chemotherapy to kill all malignant cells.
Stages of colon cancer
Before talking about the treatment of this pathology, it’s important to highlight the stages it occurs in. In this sense, the American Cancer Society proposes the classification of 5 different stages:
- Stage 0: Also known as carcinoma in situ. At this time, the cancer hasn’t yet destroyed the basement membrane of the cells or invaded the surrounding tissues, and so it’s limited to the mucous layer of the intestine.
- Stage 1: In this stage, the cancer cells are no longer limited to the mucosa, but have penetrated to the submucosa layer of the intestine, being able to reach the muscle itself. However, it hasn’t spread to the nodes or adjacent organs.
- Stage 2: Histological findings may vary. In general terms, it’s characterized by the fact that the tumor has crossed the muscular layers of the intestine and is growing towards the adjacent organs, however, there’s no lymphatic spread.
- Stage 3: Multiple findings occur, as in stage 2. In addition to the involvement of nearby organs, there’s now the involvement of the lymph nodes.
- Stage 4: This is the most serious stage of colon cancer, in which there’s a large local extension of the malignant tumor. In addition, we also have the involvement of cells and lymph nodes in distant organs, such as hepatocytes in the liver and the pulmonary interstitium.
Causes of the disease
The best treatment for colon cancer is prevention, however, this can be a difficult task. This is because it hasn’t been possible to identify a specific cause for this pathology. Its appearance is related to a series of risk factors that are the following:
- Cigarette smoking
- Being over 40 years old
- History of intestinal polyps or colon cancer
- Intake of foods high in fat and low in fiber
- Sedentary lifestyle and obesity
Colon cancer treatment
The therapy for the treatment of the disease hasn’t changed much in recent years, which is why surgical extraction is the preferred option in almost all cases. However, the amount of tissue to remove and the supportive therapies vary.
As we’ve already said, this is the treatment of choice for colon cancer. Generally speaking, the idea is to remove any tissue affected by the malignant cells. In fact, in cases where there are multiple affected organs, an en bloc resection is performed.
When colon cancer is in its 2 initial stages, removal of the polyp and a small area with adjacent lymph nodes is sufficient. On the other hand, surgery can be complex in the later stages and cause more pain.
Surgical treatment alone may not be enough for stages 2, 3, and 4 of colon cancer. Even in stage 4, there’s the possibility that surgery won’t be of any use, unless the metastatic foci are small and can be removed as well.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells, while radiation therapy uses protons and X-rays for the same purpose. Both mechanisms are a great reinforcement of surgery in the most advanced stages of cancer.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also helpful in shrinking a tumor before surgery. In addition, they control the symptoms when the cancer isn’t operable, thus improving the quality of life of the patient.
Immunotherapy and targeted therapy medications
Other techniques that can help in the treatment of colon cancer include immunotherapy and targeted drugs. The first option uses the immune system to fight cancer. This is accomplished by causing the natural killer cells to destroy the malignant cells.
On the other hand, targeted therapy drugs use drugs that target some specific abnormalities within tumor cells. In this way, cancer cells die when the abnormality is blocked. This option is usually reserved for people with advanced cancer and is combined with chemotherapy.
Palliative care is always an option
On some occasions, colon cancer doesn’t respond to any of the treatments used, especially when the condition is very advanced. In these cases, the only available option is palliative care, which consists of a series of techniques that seek to improve the quality of life of the terminal patient.
The different techniques used to treat this pathology are very useful and effective in most cases. Early diagnosis and timely management of colon cancer are essential, as they increase the probability of surviving the disease.