Metastatic Colorectal Cancer
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When cancer cells break away from a tumor formed in the colon or rectum and spread to other parts of your body through the blood or lymphatic system, these cells can settle and form new tumors on a different organ. This is called metastatic colorectal cancer.
Even though the cancer has spread to a new organ, it is still named after the part of the body where it originally started. For example, if colorectal cancer spreads to the lungs, it is called metastatic colorectal cancer. The most common site of metastases for colon or rectal cancer is the liver. The lungs and the bone are also places where colorectal cancer cells tend to spread. If you have been treated for colorectal cancer and now cancer cells have been identified in any of these areas, it is most likely that the original colorectal cancer has spread.
Metastatic colorectal cancer is different from recurrent colorectal cancer. Recurrent colorectal cancer is cancer that returns to the same part of the colon or rectum after treatment, rather than spreading to other parts of the body.
Metastatic Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors
Although anyone can be diagnosed with the disease, there are certain metastatic colorectal cancer risk factors that may increase the possibility of developing the disease. They include:
- Stage of the Disease: Colorectal cancer commonly occurs when patients are not diagnosed until the disease is in a more advanced stage.
- Tumor Size: A larger tumor size at the time of diagnosis could increase the risk of developing metastatic cancer.
- Missed Cancer Cells: If the original cancer cells are too small to be discovered during initial testing, the cells can continue to grow and spread, even after treatment has been completed.
Metastatic Colorectal Cancer Symptoms
Before colorectal cancer can metastasize, it must first start in either the colon or rectum. Below are some common symptoms associated with colorectal cancer.
- Changes in your bowel habits
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- Abdominal bloating, cramps or discomfort
- A feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely
- Stools that are thinner than normal
Metastatic colorectal cancer symptoms depend on where the cancer has spread, as well as the size and location of the tumor within the body. If you experienced some of the symptoms above as well as some on the list below, then this could be an indication that the colorectal cancer has spread to other areas of the body. Patients with metastatic colorectal cancer will not always notice symptoms before a diagnosis.
- If the bones are affected, symptoms may include pain, fractures, constipation or decreased alertness due to high calcium levels.
- If the lungs are affected, symptoms may include shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, coughing, chest wall pain or extreme fatigue.
- If the liver is affected, symptoms may include nausea, extreme fatigue, increased abdominal girth, swelling of the feet and hands due to fluid collection and yellowing or itchy skin.
- If the lymph nodes of the belly are affected, it may cause bloating, a swollen belly or loss of appetite.
- If the brain or spinal cord is affected, symptoms may include pain, confusion, memory loss, headache, blurred or double vision, difficulty with speech, difficulty with movement or seizures.
NOTE: These symptoms may be attributed to a number of conditions other than cancer. It is important to consult with a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis.
Metastatic Colorectal Cancer Treatment
The most appropriate colorectal cancer treatment plan will depend on the location and size of the tumor, your age and general health, as well as other factors. Our therapists at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) will work with you to design a metastatic colorectal cancer treatment plan that helps you fight the disease on all fronts while meeting your unique needs.
Surgery may not be an option once the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, but CTCA offers a number of tools to help you fight metastatic colorectal cancer, including chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy and interventional pulmonology. Supplemental therapies are also available, such as nutritional therapy, pain management, spiritual support, naturopathic medicine and more.