Will I Keep My Colon After a Cancer Diagnosis?

Colorectal cancer treatment in AtlantaOne of the most common questions that the doctors at Piedmont Colorectal Associates receive from patients facing colorectal cancer is whether they will lose their colon due to treatment. The answer varies from patient to patient, depending on the severity and location of the cancer.

In general, if cancer is found at a very early stage or is limited to a polyp, the cancer or polyp may be removed through a polypectomy or local excision. These are not major surgeries and do not remove the colon.

On the other hand, if the cancer is more advanced or has spread, part or all of the colon may need to be removed to get rid of the cancer.

Removing Part or All of the Colon

Colectomy is a surgical procedure that removes a portion or all of the colon, depending on how much is affected. In a partial colectomy, the surgeon removes the portion of the colon containing the cancer as well as a small segment of healthy colon on either side. (Lymph nodes may also be removed during partial colectomy.) Then, the surgeon reconnects the ends of the remaining healthy sections of colon, which is known as an anastomosis, so waste (stool) can continue to leave the body normally.

If there is insufficient healthy colon to reconnect, a colostomy may be needed. With this procedure, the surgeon makes an external opening in the abdomen, called a stoma, and pulls one end of the intestine through the hole that allows stool to leave the body. A colostomy bag is placed over the external opening and collects the stool.

Total colectomy, which removes the entire colon, is rarer. It may be recommended in cases where the colon has hundreds of polyps or there is another serious problem or disease affecting the colon. Once the colon is removed, a colostomy may be required to allow stool to leave the body. Alternatively the ileum, or lower part of the small intestine, may be connected to the rectum so stool can continue to pass through the anus.

If the colon and rectum are both affected by cancer, proctocolectomy may be performed to remove them. After removing the colon and rectum, the surgeon performs an ileoanal anastomosis, using a portion of the small intestine to create a pouch that is joined to the anus. This allows stool to continue to pass through the anus.

Treatment Personalized To Your Case and Your Needs

If you have been diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer, the treatment plan recommended for you will depend on factors such as the locations of the polyps or cancer and whether the cancer has spread (and if so, how far). To discuss your cancer treatment options with our qualified team, please contact us today.