Treatment for colorectal cancer is based on the stage and location of the cancer. It's also based on other things, such as your overall health. Most people have surgery to remove the cancer. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both may also be used. In some cases, other treatments, such as targeted therapy, may be an option. A clinical trial may be a good choice.
Your doctor will talk with you about your options and then make a treatment plan.
Some people use complementary therapies along with medical treatment. Therapies like acupuncture or massage may help you cope with the symptoms and stress of having cancer. Talk with your doctor about any of these you would like to try.
Most people have surgery. The type of surgery depends on the size and location of the cancer. The goal is to remove the cancer and a border of normal tissue (margin) around it. The doctor may also remove nearby lymph nodes to check them for cancer.
Types of surgery include:
- Surgery for small areas of cancer.
The doctor may do the surgery during a colonoscopy.
- Removing a small area of cancer in the colon or rectum is called local excision.
- Removing a polyp is called a polypectomy.
- Surgery for larger areas of cancer.
Most people have a type of surgery called a bowel resection. The doctor removes the part of the colon or rectum that contains the cancer. Then the healthy ends of the colon or rectum are sewn back together.
A bowel resection may be done through one cut (incision) in the belly. (This is called open surgery.) Or it may be done through several very small cuts. (This is called laparoscopic surgery.) Your doctor can help you learn which type of surgery is an option for you.
Sometimes after a bowel resection, the two ends of the colon or rectum can't be sewn back together. When this happens, a colostomy is done. In most cases, it is needed only for a short time to let the bowel heal after surgery. If you need a colostomy, you will get help from a nurse who specializes in ostomy care.
These medicines kill fast-growing cells. These include cancer cells and some normal cells. In some cases, the medicines are used to shrink a tumor before surgery. They may also be given after surgery to destroy any cancer cells that remain.
These medicines may be given in different ways. Often they are put into a vein. They may also be taken as pills or given as a shot.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be given together to treat some types of colorectal cancer. This is called chemoradiation.
This uses high-dose X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. It may be combined with chemotherapy or given during surgery. Radiation therapy is a common treatment for rectal cancer. It is used less often to treat colon cancer.
Radiation therapy may be given by a machine outside the body (external radiation). Or it may be given by placing substances inside the body (internal radiation).
Other treatments may be an option. They are used most often if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body (metastatic cancer) or has come back after treatment (recurrent cancer). Options may include:
- Targeted therapy.
These medicines attack only cancer cells, not normal cells. They help keep cancer from growing or spreading. If the cancer has tumor markers (biomarkers) that can be targeted, you may be given one or more of these medicines.
This treatment helps your immune system fight cancer. It may be given in several ways.
- Thermal ablation.
This uses extreme cold or heat to destroy tumors. Cryosurgery (or cryotherapy) is a type of ablation that uses cold. Radiofrequency ablation uses heat. Ablation may be used when tumors are small or surgery is not a good choice.
Clinical trials are an option for many people who have colorectal cancer. These research studies test promising new treatments or improvements to existing treatments. People in clinical trials may have access to the latest treatments before they're available to others.
Your medical team can tell you if there's a clinical trial that might be right for you.
- Bowel Resection for Colorectal Cancer
- Clinical Trials
- Immunotherapy for Cancer
- Radiation Treatment for Cancer