Life expectancy in colon cancer
The life expectancy with colon cancer is extremely variable and different for every person. The individual prognosis of the disease depends on the type of tumor, its exact location, early detection, the time of therapy, response to therapy, one's own immune system, personal general condition and a number of other factors.
Even with precise knowledge of the individual risk factors and stages of the disease, doctors can only determine an approximate average life expectancy, which can unexpectedly be exceeded or fallen below in individual cases.
The general life expectancy for colon cancer is in the middle compared to other cancers. Although colon cancer can be treated well, not all cases can be cured because the disease is often recognized too late, for example when the cancer is already proliferating outside the intestine.
In most cases, colon cancer is the so-called "colorectal cancer" designated. This word itself contains the different localizations in the colon and the rectum, which have different life expectancies. Without committing to exact prognoses, approximate life expectancies can be given for the individual stages below.
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The different stages of colon cancer
Depending on the progress of the cancer growth, one can classify cancer stages in which the localization of the cancer in the intestinal wall is in the foreground. Different life expectancies are also associated with these stages.
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Life expectancy in stage 1
Life expectancy in stage I is very good. At this stage of the disease there is a malignant tumor in the intestine, but it is still small, locally limited and has only affected a few layers of the intestinal wall. The cancer is located in the lining of the inner intestinal wall. Below the mucous membrane there is a small intermediate layer and then the first muscle layer.
In stage I the tumor has grown as far as the first muscle layer, the so-called "Muscularis propria". There are no settlements in local lymph nodes or in distant organs at this stage. Over 95% of all those affected survive the disease in the first 5 years after the diagnosis. Chemotherapy is often not necessary at this stage, as the cancer can be safely and extensively removed during the operation.
Life expectancy in stage 2
Stage II represents a slightly advanced variant of colon cancer. It is important that the cancer is still locally limited and that there are usually no metastases in the lymph nodes of the intestine or in other organs. This means that the cancer can be surgically removed well and completely, often with extensive removal of the affected intestinal segment. At this stage, however, the cancer has grown within the intestinal wall, sometimes infiltrating the muscle layers of the intestine and the fatty tissue around the intestine and can already spread to the peritoneum.
Even if no spread has yet been diagnosed, it is possible that cells have already entered the abdomen and infected the peritoneum. Therefore, after surgical removal of the tumor, an individual decision must be made as to whether a subsequent chemotherapy should be carried out. Chemotherapy can fight undetected cancer cells throughout the body and prevent microscopic, invisible colonization.
Since the likelihood of small metastases and spreads is increased in this cancer stage, the life expectancy of the first 5 years drops to about 90%.
A distinction between colon carcinoma and rectal carcinoma is useful here, since the latter, also known as "rectal carcinoma", has a poorer prognosis. Because of the different blood supply in the intestine, metastases occur earlier in rectal cancer. In stage II, there is a probability of survival of about 85%.
Life expectancy in stage 3
Stage III is already a very advanced phase of colon cancer. The cancer at this stage is no longer in the beginning, but has already spread locally and in the adjacent lymph nodes. The special feature is that cancer cells have entered the lymphatic system of the intestine and have formed small metastases in the surrounding lymph nodes.
It is still relevant for life expectancy whether only 1 lymph node or a large number are affected. The latter speaks for an advanced infiltration of the lymphatic system and reduces the likelihood of a complete cure for the colon cancer.
At this stage too, rectal carcinoma is the more dangerous variant than colon carcinoma. Life expectancy in stage III is still almost 60%. In this case, chemotherapy after the operation is therapeutically unavoidable, as there is a high probability that undetected cancer cells are in the bowel and lymphatic system that cannot be surgically removed.
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Life expectancy in stage 4
Stage IV represents the last stage of colon cancer. It is characterized by the fact that the cancer is no longer restricted to the intestine or the surrounding lymph nodes, but has infiltrated distant organs and metastasized there. The therapy must be made dependent on the patient's state of health and the individual case. In many cases a cure can still be sought. For this purpose, all tumors in the intestine and the metastases must be removed in a major operation.
With a subsequent chemotherapy other cancer cells in the body can be fought. However, the likelihood of a cure is not particularly high. In very advanced cases with poor general health, the therapy can be palliative. This is understood to be a soothing therapy, the goal of which is no longer healing. The life expectancy of all diseases in stage IV is more than 5%.
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Life expectancy with metastases
Colon cancer generally has a very good life expectancy, since a therapeutic cure can still be sought for tumors in an advanced stage. Metastases in lymph nodes can also be treated and eliminated well through a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.
However, metastases in distant organs have a strongly negative impact on life expectancy. In the most common cases, colon cancer metastasizes to the liver and lungs. Individual settlements can also be surgically removed in these cases if they are conveniently located, for example on the outer edge of the organ.
In other organs, however, the metastases often cannot be removed. In these cases, a cure cannot be assumed either, which means that life expectancy drops massively. The 5-year survival rate for metastases is around 5%. However, these statistics include all intractable colon cancer cases, which is why an individual prognosis cannot be made.
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What is life expectancy without treatment?
Even without treatment, life expectancy depends heavily on the initial stage and progression of the cancer. A small, localized carcinoma can develop for years before it invasively grows, forms colonization, and eventually affects the entire body. In some cases it is even possible that the malignant cells are permanently confined to the intestinal lining and never develop into a dangerous, invasive, and spreading cancer. This is called an "in situ carcinoma".
In most cases, however, the colon cancer continues to grow untreated and infiltrates all organs of the body over the long term. The length of time in which the disease progresses also depends on how aggressively the cancer cells multiply, how good the blood and lymph supply is in the affected section of the intestine, how strong the immune system and the physical condition of the person affected are, and whether the cancer cells are vital early on Organs affected.
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Which factors influence life expectancy in colon cancer?
Life expectancy is influenced by many factors that have a minor or greater influence on the prognosis. The stage of the disease and thus the progress of the spread of the tumor cells probably have the greatest influence. A small pre-tumor stage naturally has a completely different prognosis than a carcinoma that has grown through the entire intestinal wall and spread to distant organs such as the liver and lungs.
This is followed by the important factor of prevention, which can be significantly influenced by the patient himself. From the age of 50, when the statistical cancer cases increase, there are preventive examinations that everyone can take advantage of. Polyps, preliminary stages of tumors and other changes in the intestinal wall are recognized, removed, analyzed and, if necessary, further therapies are initiated.
Another important factor in addition to early detection and prevention is timely and correct therapy. With an early and complete surgical removal of the tumor, life expectancy increases enormously.
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Tumor residues that could not be removed during the operation are more likely to speak against a cure in the long term. The response to treatment of colon cancer also plays an important role here. Not all tumors are equally sensitive to chemotherapy after surgery, in particular. In this way, cells can survive the therapy and then spread again in the body. The patient's personal constitution also plays a role in the spread of cells and overall life expectancy. A strong immune system and a good general condition facilitate therapy and improve the prognosis.