Surgery is typically the main treatment advised for most types of early-stage colon cancer. The type of surgery recommended will vary and will depend on the stage of cancer. Before any type of surgery, patients are put on a special diet to empty the colon.
Types of Colon Cancer Surgery
Polypectomy: Many early colon cancers and polyps can be removed during a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy uses a long tube with a small video camera attached. It is threaded through the colon. During a polypectomy, the cancer is removed by passing a wire loop through the colonoscope to cut off the polyp. With a local excision is tools are used to remove small cancers on the inside lining of the colon.
Colectomy: During a colectomy, all or part of the colon is removed, as well as any nearby lymph nodes. If only part of the colon needs to be removed, this is called a hemicolectomy or segmental resection. If the entire colon is removed it is simply called a total colectomy. Typically, a total colectomy is not necessary to treat colon cancer.
Colectomies are done in one of two ways. In an open colectomy, surgery is completed through one large incision on the abdomen.
With laparoscopic-assisted colectomy, the surgery is done through several small incisions and special tools. The laparoscope is a long, thin lighted tube that has a small camera and light on the end. This allows the surgeon to see inside the abdomen. The laparoscope is inserted and then long, thin instruments are used to remove part of the colon and lymph nodes. Since these incisions are smaller, patients usually recover more quickly after laparoscopic surgery.
Side Effects of Colon Cancer Surgery
As with any surgery, there are possible risks and side effects. Complications during or right after surgery may include bleeding, infection, and/or blood clots in the legs.
After surgery, patients will feel some pain and will need to be medicated for several days. For the first few days post-surgery, patients will be allowed only liquids, with most patients returning to solid foods in several days.
Post-surgery, some patients develop scar tissue in the abdomen. This can cause organs or tissues to stick together. These are called adhesions and can be painful. If this happens, further surgery may be necessary.
Some patients will need a temporary or permanent colostomy (or ileostomy) after their surgery. Speak to your surgeon about the possibility of this.