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The stages of colorectal cancer

Determining the stage of colorectal cancer helps your doctor recommend the best treatment for the disease.

If you or a loved one has just been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, you may feel worried, scared and unsure of what to do.

That's understandable. But before you become too concerned, sit down with your doctor to find out exactly how the cancer is likely to affect the health of you or your loved one.

Colorectal cancer is measured in stages—based on how far the cancer has spread. Your treatment options depend on what stage the cancer is diagnosed at.

Your doctor can determine the stage of the cancer using procedures such as blood tests, ultrasound, chest x-rays or a colonoscopy, where a flexible, lighted instrument is used to examine the colon and rectum for abnormal areas.

The National Cancer Institute describes the stages of colorectal cancer as:

Stage zero. The cancer is detected very early and only on the innermost lining of the colon or rectum.

Stage I. The cancer has spread to more of the inner wall of the colon or rectum.

Stage II. The cancer has spread outside the colon or rectum into nearby tissue, but not to the lymph nodes.

Stage III. The cancer has spread to the 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.

According to the American Cancer Society, treatment and outlook for recovery depend largely on the stage of the cancer.

For early stages of colorectal cancer, surgery may be all that is required. More advanced stages may require other treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

To help yourself or a loved one deal with the diagnosis of colorectal cancer, it's important to make sure you understand how far the cancer has spread. With that information, you and your doctor can then make the best decision about treatment.

Reviewed 11/16/2022

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