Colon cancer is classified as Stage IV if the cancer has spread to distant locations in the body; this may include the liver, lungs, bones, distant lymph nodes or other sites. While it is commonly thought that patients diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer have few treatment options, certain patients can still be cured of their cancer, and others can derive significant benefit from additional treatment.
Patients with Stage IV colon cancer can be broadly divided into two groups:
- Those with widespread, metastatic cancer that cannot be treated with surgery (sometimes called unresectable cancer)
- Those with cancer that has metastasized to a single site
When the site of metastasis is a single organ (such as the liver), and the cancer is confined to a single defined area within the organ, patients may benefit from local treatment directed at that single metastasis, which may include surgery, or other liver-directed techniques such as radiofrequency ablation, radiation, embolization, or cryotherapy.
The following is a general overview of treatment for Stage IV colon cancer. Treatment may consist of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these treatment techniques. Multi-modality treatment, which is treatment using two or more techniques, has become an important approach for increasing a patient’s chance of cure or prolonging survival. In some cases, participation in a clinical trial utilizing new, innovative therapies may provide the most promising treatment. Circumstances unique to each patient’s situation may influence how these general treatment principles are applied.
New chemotherapy drugs continue to be developed and evaluated in patients with recurrent cancers in clinical trials. The purpose of a phase I clinical trial is to evaluate the safety of new drugs in order to determine the best way of administering the drug. The purpose of a phase II clinical trial is to investigate whether the drug has any anticancer activity in patients. For more information on clinical trials, go to www.clinicaltrials.gov.