Stage IV Colon Cancer: Symptoms, Treatment Options and Long-Term Outlook

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What is Stage IV Colon Cancer?

The progression of colon cancer is described in five stages. In stage 0, the cancer is just beginning to develop and appears on the inner most layer of the colon. As the disease progresses to stage I, the tumor has penetrated the second and third layer of the colon and is pressing against the inner wall of the colon. By stage II, the tumor has crossed the muscular wall of the colon, but cancer cells are not present in the lymph nodes. In stage III, the cancer has spread outside the colon to a lymph node(s).

Stage IV colon cancer is the most severe form of colon cancer. The disease has spread from the colon to other parts of the body. The organ which is most susceptible to cancer cells originating from the colon is the liver. The lungs and lymph nodes are two more targets of colon cancer cells.


The early stages of colon cancer may not produce any noticeable symptoms. As the disease progresses to Stage IV, there are several symptoms which may arise. The most common problem is irregular bowel movements resulting in constipation or diarrhea. The feeling of not being able to fully empty the bowel is another sign of the disease. Rectal cramping or bleeding are two more symptoms of colon cancer. Fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, abdominal discomfort, bloating and pelvic pain are a few more symptoms of the disease.

Treatment Options

There are several treatment options for stage IV colon cancer. The most common treatment is surgical removal of the tumor. This is done through a procedure called resection, where the portion of the colon that contains the tumor is removed, and the two ends of the healthy colon are joined. Surgery may also be required to remove portions of organs that were invaded by colon cancer cells.

Another treatment option is chemotherapy. The patient is usually given a combination of drugs that target cancer cells. Some of the drugs used include 5-FU, capecitabine, irinotecan, oxaliplatin, bevacizumab, cetuximab and panitumumab.

Radiation therapy is a third option for treating advanced colon cancer. It is usually used to improve the quality of life, rather than cure the disease. The goal is to target cancer cells that are near healthy tissue. This reduces pain, stops bleeding and relieves pressure.

Long-Term Outlook

The long-term outlook for advanced stage colon cancer depends on a number of factors. The size of the tumor and the location where the cancer cells have spread to will affect the survival rate. Generally, the five year survival rate (the percentage of individuals who live five years after diagnosis) for stage IV colon cancer is between 8 and 15 percent. With improved screening and early detection, the disease can be halted before reaching such a critical stage. Improvements in medications and surgical techniques will eventually improve survival rate.


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