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Colon Cancer

What does Slow Growing Mean?

03/30/2011

Question:

I’ve heard that colon cancer is considered to be a slow-growing cancer. What exactly does that mean? And how it is possible that so many people are dying from this disease when it supposedly isn’t that aggressive and can be detected early on?

Answer:

Colon cancer is slow growing in comparison to some cancers such as acute leukemia, small cell lung cancer, or aggressive lymphomas, which can rapidly (within days) double in size. For most patients it takes approximately 10 years for a colon polyp to become an invasive colon cancer. For patients with an inherited type of colorectal cancer called Lynch Syndrome (also known as Hereditary Non-polyposis Colorectal Cancer), it may take only 3 years for a polyp to become a cancer. However, once a patient has advanced colorectal cancer, i.e. it has spread to distant sites such as the liver or lung, without any treatment patients on average survive less than one year. So, in that case, it is not a slow-growing cancer. Hope that helps!

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Response by:

Smitha S Krishnamurthi, MD Smitha S Krishnamurthi, MD
Assistant Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University