Colorectal Cancer


Finding Out How Far Cancer Has Progressed

If the diagnosis is cancer, the doctor needs to learn the stage -- or extent -- of the disease. Staging is a careful attempt to find out whether the cancer has spread and, if so, to what parts of the body. More tests may be performed to help determine the stage. Knowing the stage of the disease helps the doctor plan treatment. There are four stages used to describe colorectal cancer.

Stages of Colorectal Cancer

Here are the stages of colorectal cancer:

  • Stage 0 -- The cancer is very early and is found only in the innermost lining of the colon or rectum.
  • Stage I -- The cancer involves more of the inner wall of the colon or rectum.
  • Stage II -- The cancer has spread outside the colon or rectum to nearby tissue, but not to the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that are part of the body's immune system.
  • 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. Colorectal cancer tends to spread to the liver and/or lungs.
  • Recurrent -- Recurrent cancer means the cancer has come back after treatment. The disease may recur in the colon or rectum or in another part of the body.

Most patients with stage 0, I, II, or III cancers can undergo treatment with the hope of a cure. Colorectal cancer rarely occurs again after 5 years, so most patients who live 5 years are considered cured. Most stage IV cancers cannot be cured, although treatment may be available to help extend life.