Disease and Drug Information

Colon & Rectal Cancer Staging

Stages of Colon Cancer and Rectal Cancer (Colorectal Cancer)

If a biopsy shows that colon or rectal cancer is present, your doctor needs to know the extent (stage) of the disease to plan the best treatment. The stage is based on whether the tumor has invaded nearby tissues, whether the cancer has spread and, if so, to what parts of the body.

Your doctor may order some of the following tests:

  • Blood Tests: Your doctor checks for carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and other substances in the blood. Some people who have colon cancer, rectal cancer, or other conditions have a high CEA level.
  • Colonoscopy: If colonoscopy was not performed for diagnosis, your doctor checks for abnormal areas along the entire length of the colon and rectum with a colonoscope.
  • Endorectal Ultrasound: An ultrasound probe is inserted into your rectum. The probe sends out sound waves that people cannot hear. The waves bounce off your rectum and nearby tissues, and a computer uses the echoes to create a picture. The picture may show how deep a rectal tumor has grown or whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other nearby tissues.
  • Chest x-ray: X-rays of your chest may show whether cancer has spread to your lungs.
  • CT Scan: An x-ray machine linked to a computer takes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside your body. You may receive an injection of dye. A CT scan may show whether cancer has spread to the liver, lungs, or other organs.

Your doctor may also use other tests (such as MRI) to see whether the cancer has spread. Sometimes staging is not complete until after surgery to remove the tumor.

Colon Cancer Staging

Doctors describe colon cancer by the following stages:

  • Stage 0: The cancer is found only in the innermost lining of the colon. Carcinoma in situ is another name for Stage 0 colon cancer.
  • Stage I: The tumor has grown into the inner wall of the colon. The tumor has not grown through the wall.
  • Stage II: The tumor extends more deeply into or through the wall of the colon. It may have invaded nearby tissue, but cancer cells have not spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage III: The cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, but not to other parts of the body.
  • Stage IV: The cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver or lungs.
  • Recurrence: This is cancer that has been treated and has returned after a period of time when the cancer could not be detected. The disease may return in the colon or in another part of the body.

Rectal Cancer Staging

Doctors describe rectal cancer by the following stages:

  • Stage 0: This stage, also known as carcinoma in situ, describes the stage where the cancer has not grown beyond the inner layer of the rectum.
  • Stage I: The tumor has grown into the inner wall of the rectum. The tumor has not grown through the wall, spreading to nearby lymph nodes or other sites.
  • Stage II: The tumor extends more deeply into or through the wall of the rectum. It may have invaded nearby tissue, but cancer cells have not spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage III: The cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, but not to other parts of the body.
  • Stage IV: The cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver, lungs, or distant set of lymph nodes.
  • Recurrence: This is cancer that has been treated and has returned after a period of time when the cancer could not be detected. The disease may return in the rectum or in another part of the body.
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