Surgery for Colon Cancer
Surgery is usually the first course of action against colon cancer. Even patients with stage III colon cancers can be treated with surgery. When you come to Siteman for colon cancer surgery, you’ll be cared for by surgeons who have specialized in colon procedures. They’ll use minimally invasive and even robotic techniques whenever possible to make your recovery easier and keep risks down.
What surgeries are done for colon cancer?
Patients with colon cancer, or at an extremely high risk of colon cancer, may be treated with a number of different procedures. The most common is a partial colectomy.
A partial colectomy is an operation to remove a section of the colon. Because the colon is essentially a long tube, surgeons can take out the area affected by cancer as well as a margin of healthy tissue on each side. They will then reconnect the two sides of the colon. Though some patients require an ostomy bag for a period of time after this procedure, most go on to achieve normal bowel function.
During a partial colectomy, surgeons will also remove the lymph nodes closest to the cancer site. This helps physicians to stage the cancer and plan for additional treatments, if necessary.
At Siteman, more than 60 percent of the patients who receive partial colectomies are able to have them using minimally invasive or laparoscopic techniques. This means that, instead of making a single large incision, the surgeon will make a number of small ones and use a camera to visualize the inside of the body as he or she conducts the procedure. Sometimes, robotic arms are used to hold the instruments while the surgeon manipulates them from a console. Smaller incisions limit blood loss, reduce pain, and shorten recovery times. Your surgeon will let you know if you are a candidate for a minimally invasive partial colectomy.
A metastasectomy is a procedure to remove colon cancer that has metastasized to another organ, such as the liver or the lungs. Surgeons at Siteman are skilled at these procedures and will try to find ways to eliminate your colon cancer from other locations in the body.
Preventive colon surgery
Patients with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) can develop hundreds or thousands of colon polyps before age 18-22, so the best way to prevent colon cancer is to remove the colon, a procedure sometimes called a total colectomy. Surviving without a major organ such as the colon may seem unimaginable, but in fact, the main job of the colon is simply to absorb water from waste. You don’t actually need it to get nutrients from your food. It’s certainly possible to live and thrive without a colon.
In the unlikely event that you are a candidate for this procedure, your physicians and care team will discuss the implications of life without a colon in great detail and help you to make an informed decision about whether or not to proceed.
What is an ostomy?
An ostomy is a mechanism to allow for the drainage of waste if the colon is unable to function. Surgeons will create an opening from the colon to the outside of the body. The opening is covered by a bag that collects stool as it drains. In most cases, ostomies are temporary measures that allow the colon to heal following a partial colectomy. Colon cancer patients rarely need them long-term.
If you receive an ostomy following a colectomy, you’ll be trained to use it and care for it by a special ostomy nurse.