It’s important to understand that colorectal cancer is a collective term used to describe cancer that starts in the colon, rectum, or both. These cancers can also be named colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where they start:
If either of these cancers spread, or metastasize, to the lungs, liver, or any other organ, it is called metastatic colorectal cancer. In most cases, the liver is the first to be affected, however, cells may also spread to the lungs, bones, brain, or spinal cord. Keep in mind that metastatic colorectal cancer is different than recurrent colorectal cancer, which is cancer that returns to the same part of the colon or rectum after treatment, rather than spreading to a different area of the body.
If you have been diagnosed with colon cancer, your doctor will recommend tests to determine if your cancer has spread, and if so, how far. This process is known as staging. Knowing the stage (extent) of your cancer will help your care team at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers (RMCC):
Some staging tests your doctor could recommend may include imaging procedures such as abdominal, pelvic, and chest CT scans. In many cases, the stage of your cancer may not be fully determined until after colon cancer surgery.
While there are many staging systems, the TNM system, created by the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC), is the most widely used.
TNM stands for:
In your pathology report, the stage of your cancer will be indicated by Roman numerals that range from 0 to IV. As a general rule, the lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. By stage IV, the cancer is considered advanced and has spread (metastasized) to other areas of the body.
Below is a more detailed breakdown of how your doctor will describe colorectal cancer by its stage:
We at RMCC understand that a colorectal cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. Just know that we are here for you every step of the way, focused on providing you with the best treatment and overall cancer care. From start to finish, we believe in treating the whole person, not just the disease.