Symptoms, Treatment & Life Expectancy of Stage 3 Colon Cancer

Submitted by Nic on October 18, 2012

Colon cancer, or colorectal cancer, is a cancer that originates in the lining of the colon and rectum. In most cases, benign polyps gradually develop into cancerous tumors. Colon cancer is almost undetectable in its early stages, but as the cancer penetrates deep into the wall of the colon, symptoms begin to manifest. The five stages of colon cancer are as follows:

  • Stage 0, where the cancer is limited to the colorectal lining.
  • Stage 1, where the cancer has reached the colorectal wall, but not penetrated it.
  • Stage 2, where the cancer has penetrated the wall and affected nearby tissues, but has not yet reached the lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3, where the cancer has affected the lymph nodes as well.
  • Stage 4, where the cancer has started to affect other parts of the body, especially the lungs and liver.

As mentioned earlier, symptoms of colon cancer only manifest in end stages, so stage 3 colon cancer is often identified by means of diagnostic tests, like a colonoscopy, during regular screening, or if you've experienced some of the typical symptoms of stage 3 colon cancer such as abdominal discomfort, bouts of constipation and diarrhea, dark and thinner than normal stool, weakness, and weight loss. You may also experience depression and anger at an emotional level.

Stage 3 colon cancer can further be divided into 3 categories, depending on the number of lymph nodes affected and the extent to which it has spread.

Stage 3A colon cancer: Cancer has moved to the middle layers of the colon wall and has affected three lymph nodes.

Stage 3B colon cancer: Cancer has penetrated deeper than the middle layers and /or passed through the colon wall. Surrounding colorectal tissues may also be affected.

Stage 3C colon cancer: Cancer has extended beyond stage 3B colon cancer, and has also affected four/more than four lymph nodes.


While stage 3 colon cancer implies that the disease has not spread to other organs, in this stage it has definitely spread to the lymph nodes and beyond the colon wall. Thus, stage 3 colon cancer treatment will more often than not begin with surgery and is often followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation.

  • Surgery: Surgery in stage 3 involves removal of the affected part of the colon. This procedure is called a colon resection or colectomy. The aim is to remove the first lesion that is in the colon wall.
  • Chemotherapy: Patients with stage 3 colon cancer are also advised to undergo chemotherapy for at least 6 to 8 months following the surgery.

This is known as adjuvant chemotherapy. While drug 5-fluorouracil is known to improve chances of complete reversal/cure, capecitabine, oxaliplatin, and irinotecan and are also used.

  • Radiation: Radiation is often used alongside chemotherapy for patients in stage 3 colon cancer.

Life Expectancy

Like other cancer, treatment options, medical history, overall health, ethnicity, tumor size, tumor characteristics, and even your general approach to life determine life expectancy and survival rate.

Since stage 3 colon cancer is divided into 3 stages, the five-year survival rates are different for each stage.

  • Stage 3A: 73%
  • Stage 3B: 46%
  • Stage 3C: 28%

Stage 3 colon cancer prognosis is better for those in the earlier sub-stages of the stage 3 colon cancer. In general, prognosis of each patient is different from the other, and there have been some cases of complete reversal.


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