Did your colon cancer treatment succeed at putting you in remission? While this is certainly a cause for celebration, it does not mean your colorectal cancer specialist will rest easy. Nor should you. You can still develop the same type of cancer years after treating the first one. We call this occurrence recurrent cancer.

It can be concerning when your colon cancer returns, but that does not mean all hope is lost. Let us first learn more about what causes this problem before we discuss how to minimise our risk of developing cancer again.

What Causes Colon Cancer Recurrences?

Colorectal cancers can return when the colon cancer treatment only kills most of the cancerous cells, not all of them. The surviving cells can stay dormant for a long time until they start multiplying to the point where they are detected again.

There are also cases where the oncologist diagnoses a completely different cancer from the first one.

Types of Recurrent Colon Cancer

Recurrent colon cancer comes in three main types, like other cancer recurrences:

  • Local – This occurs when colon cancer develops in the same location in your colon as the original tumour. 
  • Regional – In regional recurrent cancer, the cancerous growths are found in the lymph nodes close to where the original cancer began.
  • Distant – This is when the same cancer cells from the first cancer are found in organs far from the colon, such as the liver or lungs.

What Are the Symptoms of a Colon Cancer Recurrence?

The symptoms of recurrent colon cancer generally depend on whether it is a local, regional, or distant type. For example, if the tumour is still located in the colon, you may have symptoms similar to your past experience, such as:

  • Frequent diarrhoea, constipation, or other unusual bowel movements
  • Stomach pain and bloating
  • Blood in stool
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Weight and appetite loss

However, recurrent colon cancer can also be asymptomatic until it reaches advanced stages. It would be wiser to see your colorectal cancer specialist for regular screenings.

Is Recurrent Colon Cancer Still Treatable?

As with all cancers, the outlook for treating recurrent colon cancer depends on how soon the cancer is detected and diagnosed by your colorectal cancer specialist. The earlier it is found through screening, the sooner the doctor can suggest a treatment plan.

The treatment plan can differ from the one used against the original cancer. This is due to factors such as:

  • Surgery might no longer be an option for the recurrent cancer.
  • The cancer may have become resistant to the medications used in the past.
  • Other treatments, such as radiation or target therapy, might not have been used in the original treatment plan.
  • The original treatment could be too aggressive for your present overall health.

How to Prevent Recurrent Colon Cancer

There is no guaranteed way to prevent cancer from developing again, but you can work on reducing your risk factors instead. Some of the ways to do this include:

  • Eat a healthy diet of fibre, healthy fats, lean protein, fruits, and vegetables.
  • You should also avoid sugary food and drinks, which can feed the polyps that can cause colon cancer.
  • Avoid using tobacco products and drinking alcohol.
  • Manage your weight to prevent obesity.
  • Exercise regularly to improve your overall fitness.

Follow-up Clinic Visits are Important

In general, physicians recommend regular follow-up visits to their clinic to check on you after your colon cancer treatments are done. Following your scheduled appointments can help minimise the risk of recurrences, as your doctor can check for warning signs and advise you on what to do before they worsen.

Take Care of Your Health Even After Remission

Going into remission is an event to be glad about. But we never truly know if our cancer can return or not, so let us stay vigilant. Practising a healthy lifestyle and having regular check-ups and tests can help reduce our risk of dealing with cancer again.

Should you feel anything unusual that you suspect could be a recurrence, do visit your colorectal cancer specialist. They can help determine if you have recurrent colon cancer and develop a plan to treat it.

References:

https://www.verywellhealth.com/colon-cancer-recurrence-797466

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/colon-cancer-recurrence

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4868559

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/in-depth/cancer/art-20044575

By otto