Treatments Available for Colorectal Cancer

Developing more targeted therapies for colon cancerFor patients who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, they will need to discuss their treatment options with their oncologist and primary health care provider. The best course of treatment will depend on the stage at which the disease was diagnosed (symptoms may not be noticeable during the early stages). Here’s a brief overview of the options that patients may have when it comes to treating colorectal cancer.

(If you have been diagnosed with this disease, then you could qualify for a colorectal cancer clinical trial.)

For most types of cancer, a team approach is employed when treating a patient. People who are diagnosed with colorectal cancer will receive routine care from nurses, counselors and dieticians. However, the primary course of their treatment will be decided by a team of specialists which can include:

  • Medical oncologist
  • Gastroenterologist
  • Radiation oncologist
  • Surgeons

Surgery for Colorectal Cancer

Surgeons might be able to remove cancerous tissue from the patient’s rectum or colon. Surgery can also be used to prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. The procedure will mostly depend on the stage of the patient’s cancer.

Contemporary procedures include:

  • Bowel resection – Surgeons remove any cancerous tissue from the colon or rectum plus surrounding area. Then they carefully connect the healthy ends of the rectum and colon together.
  • Liver resection – This procedure is used if the cancer has spread to the patient’s liver. Chemotherapy may be applied to a large tumor in order to shrink it before surgeons can safely remove it.
  • Additional resections – Surgeons can perform a variety of resections safely depending on where the cancer has spread. Although not every patient will be a viable candidate for these invasive procedures.

Chemotherapy for Colorectal Cancer

Chemotherapy is the usage of drugs on the patient’s body to kill off cancer cells. They can be applied via IV, pump or in oral pill form. Each chemo drug has been designed to act against a specific type of cancer. Colorectal cancer patients may receive the following forms of chemo:

  • Palliative chemotherapy – This is used for advanced stage colon cancers that have already begun to metastasize.
  • Adjuvant chemotherapy – This form of chemo is applied following a surgical procedure to kill off any remaining cancer cells that might have been left behind or missed.
  • Neoadjuvant chemotherapy – This form of chemo is applied prior to surgery in order to shrink large tumors that could cause unnecessary complications during the procedure.

Radiation Therapy for Colorectal Cancer

Radiation therapy applies focused high energy radiation in order to kill off cancerous cells. This can be tricky to do without harming some nearby healthy cells. The therapy is performed by one radiation oncologist– a specialist in radiation medicine. Colorectal cancer patients should discuss the possible side effects of this treatment with their doctor before they get started.

Immunotherapy for Colorectal Cancer

Biological therapy, otherwise known as immunotherapy, is a treatment that essentially uses the patient’s own immune system as a weapon against their cancer. Immunotherapy involves the stimulation of the immune system response in order to increase the therapy’s efficiency. If this sounds new to you, it’s because this type of treatment has only recently been applied in cases of colorectal cancer.

(Fast Fact: Several forms of biological therapy are still being tested in colon cancer clinical trials.)

Remember that the first line of treatment for most cases of colorectal cancer will be surgery to remove the patient’s tumor. If the disease has already progressed to stage IV by the time it is diagnosed, then surgery will no longer be a viable option. Also be sure to talk to your cancer care team about possible treatment side effects and how you can best cope with them.