Stage III Colorectal Surgery

Removal of the tumor and surrounding lymph nodes is the primary treatment for stage III colon cancer.  Before surgery, you will have had a CT scan to detect any cancer that may have spread outside of the colon.  During the surgery, the surgeons will also explore the abdomen and liver for tumor that may have spread from the colon to other sites such as the liver or abdominal cavity.  The surgeon will also attempt to remove lymph nodes around the site of the colon where the cancer sits to see if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. 

The type of surgery depends on a variety of factors, including: the location of the tumor, the presence of other associated cancers or polyps, the stage of the cancer; the risk of development of other colon cancer in the future; the patient’s preference. The method of reconstruction of the colon can vary. Some surgeons use manual suturing either in one or two layers, others prefer one of various stapling techniques.

A variety of types of colorectal surgeries are possible depending on where the cancer occurs. The surgical techniques for colon cancer differs signficantly from the surgical techniques for rectal cancer.  At Johns Hopkins we have a team of surgeons who specialize in colon and rectal cancer surgery.  By coordinating your care with experts in medical and radiation oncology, patients at Johns Hopkins receive the full benefits of a multidisciplinary team approach.  Clinical trials are options for all stages of colorectal cancer patients at Johns Hopkins and may be fully explored with your team of experts.  The strength of our cancer program ensures that patients receive the most advanced, effective, and safe treatments. 

To make a surgical appointment at Johns Hopkins please call (410) 933-1233 

Please choose the location of your cancer to view the corresponding surgical techniques:

Colon Resection

Rectal Resection

Colorectal resection, including regional lymph nodes, is based on the blood supply to the bowel (Figure 20).

Figure 20. Arterial blood supply to the colon.

Surgical Treatment of Stage III Colon Cancer

A right hemicolectomy (Figure 21) is the surgical procedure performed for patients with cancer between the cecum and ascending colon.

Figure 21. Right hemicolectomy with ileocolic anastomosis.

A transverse colectomy (Figure 22) is performed for tumors in the transverse colon. The middle colic artery is ligated and the ascending and descending colon are anastomosed.

Figure 22. Transverse colectomy with anastomosis of ascending and descending colon.

Extended right colectomy is performed in cases in which the cancer is located in the proximal or mid transverse colon (Figure 23). This resection requires removal of the terminal ileum, cecum, ascending colon, hepatic flexure and a portion of the transverse colon.

Figure 23. Extended right colectomy with ileocolic anastomosis.

Left hemicolectomy (Figure 24) is the procedure for tumors of the descending colon. The left colic artery is ligated, the splenic flexure and descending colon removed and the transverse and upper sigmoid colon joined (anastomosed).

Figure 24. Left hemicolectomy with transverse and sigmoid colon anastomosis.

Sigmoid colectomy removes tumors of the sigmoid colon (Figure 25). The upper rectum and descending colon are joined (anastomosed).

Figure 25. Sigmoid colectomy with anastomosis of descending colon and upper rectum.

Surgical Treatment of Stage III Rectal Cancer

The surgical management of rectal cancer can be particularly complicated, depending on the location of the tumor. There are a variety of surgical procedures that are available to patients with rectal cancer ranging from local excision to radical abdominoperineal resection. Accurate preoperative staging determining depth of invasion and lymph node involvement is essential in selection of the appropriate operative procedure. CT or MRI and endorectal ultrasound are diagnostic tests used for staging of the tumor.  Stage II rectal cancers are staged as T3NOM0 or T4N0M0, generally based on endorectal ultrasound or MRI staging.

The three options for management of Stage III rectal cancers include: 

  • Local excision
  • Restorative anterior or low anterior resection
  • Abdominal perineal resection with permanent colostomy

In general, local excision is rarely offered for stage II rectal cancers except in the context of a clinical trial since the lymph nodes need to be sampled to make sure that there is no cancer in them.  Nodal sampling can be performed by either a restorative procedure which salvages the sphincter muscles such as a low anterior resection or an abdominoperineal resection which would result in a permanent colostomy. The low anterior resection is suitable for lesions located in the upper two-thirds of the rectum. This sphincter-sparing operation can also be performed for cancers in the middle and lower third of the rectum with low coloanal anastomosis at the level of the pelvic floor (Figure 25).

Figure 26. Low anterior resection for tumors in the upper two thirds of the rectum. A, Temporary colostomy; B, subsequent colorectal anastomosis; C, restoration of GI tract continuity.


Colorectal anastomosis or coloanal reconstructions are alternatives to permanent colostomy. Construction of a colon J-pouch creates a neorectal reservoir that can reduce frequency and urgency of bowel movements and nocturnal bowel movements in selected cases (Figure 27).


Figure 27. A, Low anterior resection; B,C, coloanal anastomosis; D, j pouch construction creating a reservoir.


These radical “transabdominal” resections are recommended for most cancers at risk for recurrence (higher than stage T1 or poorly differentiated with lymphatic or vascular involvement). The selection of surgical procedure should be guided toward the prevention of pelvic recurrence. Total mesorectal excision with a low anterior resection or an abdominoperineal resection is the optimal surgical procedure for rectal cancer. Total mesorectal excision removes the rectal mesentery as an intact unit. This reduces local recurrence along with preserving sexual function, urinary function, and continency.

Abdominoperineal resection is used when the lesion is in the lowest part of the rectum (Figure 28) typically involving the anal musculature. A colostomy allows for drainage of waste through an opening in the abdominal wall.


Figure 28. Abdominoperineal resection with colostomy.

Treatment for Advanced (Unresectable) Rectal Cancer

Endoscopic Therapy
For patients with obstructive unresectable rectal cancer, endoscopic therapy using the neodymium-yttrium-aluminum-garnet (Nd:YAG) laser is an alternative to recanalize the rectal lumen. Electrofulguration using a heater probe has also been used for palliative therapy.

Another approach for patients who are poor surgical candidates is photodynamic therapy(PDT). In this procedure, patients are sensitized with a hematoporphyrin derivative, which is taken up preferentially by the tumor cells. At this point, phototherapy is performed using a laser beam applied through a flexible optical fiber directed at the tumor. The laser sensitizes the protoporphyrin ultimately inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death) essentially killing the tumor cells. This technique is still considered experimental.

Complications associated to endoscopic therapy with Nd:YAG laser are bleeding and perforation.