If a doctor finds what may be bowel cancer he or she will perform a biopsy, removing some tissue for examination under a microscope by a pathologist. If the tissue is cancerous, the doctor will want to learn the stage (or extent) of disease. Treatment will depend in part on the stage of the bowel cancer,, that is, how far it has spread from its original site. Staging systems for bowel cancer and the terms used by them vary in different parts of the world, and the most widely accepted systems of staging rely on the extent of spread. In Australia, the staging system for bowel cancer is the Australian Clinico-Pathological Staging (ACPS) System.
Stage A – the cancer is confined to the bowel wall
Stage B – the cancer has spread to the outer surface of the bowel wall
Stage C – the cancer is found in lymph nodes near the bowel
Stage D – the cancer is found at distant sites, for example the liver or lungs.
There are more details about staging on the Bowel Cancer Australia web site.
All stages of bowel cancer are usually treated by surgically removing the cancer and possibly some of the surrounding tissue. For Stages B and C, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy may be added to help kill the cancer and shrink the tumour. Chemotherapy and radiation may also be used in Stage D to improve symptoms and to prolong life.