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Colon Cancer Spread
November 2003

Q. My wife is 33 years old. In May of 2000 she had a very small (1-2 cm) tumor removed from her colon which was cancerous. The doctors said that no further treatment was necessary because it was such a small tumor and it was non-invasive. She has had a colonoscopy every 6 months for 3 years without any problems. In January of 2003 she was diagnosed with cancer in her lymph nodes although her colon was still free of cancer. If colon cancer was a non-invasive tumor and was contained in the colon, is it possible for the cancer to spread outside the colon?

A. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. It affects men and women equally, and about 100,000 new cases of colon cancer and 40,000 cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed each year. At the time of diagnosis, the type of cells are examined and the surrounding tissue is examined for signs of spread. These studies determine what type of treatment is likely to help. Like all other forms of cancer, early detection will aid in effective treatment. Colon cancer occurring at a young age is very uncommon, and routine screening tests are usually started at age 50.

It is not clear whether the cancer in the lymph system is the colon cancer or a new disease entirely. This can usually be determined by studying the cells from a biopsy. The type of cells and extent of spread will determine the treatment recommendations.



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