The risk of colon cancer in men and women is almost equal. And when your doctor talks about late stage of this disease, this means that the cancer has spread. There are two main categories, local spread and secondary spread. The location where the cancer has spread can affect how the treatment should go. How about the symptoms?
Over time, cancerous tumor can break and the cancerous cells can travel to other parts of the body. The spread of a cancer till it create a new cancer in other areas of the body is medically called metastasis.
Metastasis means a cancer from certain part of the body where it originally started (the primary site) spreads and goes to other sites of the body.
The cancer cells can travel from the primary site to other sites of the body through blood flow (bloodstream) or/and lymph system (a system consists of lots of lymph nodes, vessels that distribute fluid and immune system cells).
If the cancer cells travel and spread through the lymph system, they are more likely to end up in the nearby lymph nodes. But if they spread through bloodstream, they can end up in any part of the body (though typically they will affect the nearby organs where the main cancerous tumor grows because many of them die when travelling through bloodstream).
For summary, the following are some major steps of how a metastatic cancer occurs:
- The main (primary) tumor need to break away, making the cancerous cells go and travel through bloodstream or/and lymph system.
- To be able to travel from the primary site to other parts of the body, the cancerous cells have to attach to blood vessel’s wall or lymph vessel’s wall, and move through it.
- Once they arrive in the new site /organ of the body, these cells must be able to grow and thrive!
- And they also need to successfully fight against the attack from the immune system so thus they can survive and grow in their new location!
You may wonder why a cancer tends to spread in certain part of the body?! It’s undeniable that the primary site where it grows can play a key role in where it will spread.
Many times, cancerous cells that break free from their primary site will travel through bloodstream or/and lymph system, as noted before. Then they are more likely to get trapped in the nearby lymph nodes or in the next ‘downstream’ organ.
Lung is a common site where cancer spreads. Your heart pumps blood poor in oxygen from the rest of the body through your lungs. That’s why there are many cancers that commonly spread to the lungs through bloodstream.
Colon cancer commonly also spreads to the lungs. This is because there are many blood vessels and lymph nodes that line from the lungs to the large intestine (colon).
But liver is the most common place for colon cancer metastasis, and lungs are the second common place! You can learn and see more this issue in here!
There may be some new symptoms you may experience when it has spread, but you may also still experience the main symptoms of the primary cancer itself such as abdominal discomforts (like abdominal pain), blood on or in the stool, and changes of bowel movements – see more these main symptoms in this post!.
Although the cancer has spread and may cause new complications, but the treatment plan is still mainly focused on the primary cancer.
For instance, if it has caused secondary liver cancer, this means that you have cancer in the liver that comes from the primary cancer in the colon. But this doesn’t mean you have liver cancer!
Therefore, your healthcare provider team usually needs to make treatment plan that is still focused to treat the cancer cells in the colon. But this doesn’t mean that your secondary cancer is left untreated!
Local spread symptoms
So there are two common sites where colon cancer spreads at late stage (secondary spread); liver and lungs. But before it spreads to distinct organs, first it spreads locally.
Local spread means that it has broken and spread to the surrounding tissues in the abdomen and pelvis. If there are some cancerous cells in the pelvis, pelvic pain can be one of the main symptoms.
Symptoms of when it has spread to the liver
In some cases, a secondary cancer in the liver that spreads from bowel may be already picked up before it gets worse and causes symptoms. Furthermore, there may be no symptoms even though the liver has been affected by cancer.
Liver is a tough organ. Even it may still work well when a few parts of it or most parts of it are attacked by cancerous cells.
If the secondary cancer in the liver does cause the symptoms, these usually can be vague, too. For instance, general feeling unwell and tiredness are usually the first signs, but these can pinpoint numerous different health conditions.
Other symptoms may include: