Colon Cancer Treatments

Colorectal cancer (CRC), also known as colon or bowel cancer, is a cancer that affects the large intestine (the colon) and/or the rectum (the lowest part of the large intestine). If the disease is present in the colon, the cancer is called colon cancer. When it occurs in the rectum, it is called rectal cancer. However, the term “colorectal cancer” is sometimes used to describe cancer of either the colon or the rectum.

Although the number of deaths attributed to colon cancer have decreased over the past 15 years, CRC is the second most common cause of death from cancer in the US. Like many other types of cancer, for the best colon cancer prognosis, early detection is key. Thus, it is important to be screened for colon cancer on a regular basis.

Colon cancer treatment will depend on the stage of the cancer, as well as the size and location of the tumor. The patient’s current health status will also help determine the best path of treatment. While some people will need only surgery to remove the cancer, other people will need a combination of different colon cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

In this section, we’ll discuss the various colon cancer treatments available to patients. We’ll offer information on surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy as well as on experimental treatments. We’ll also offer tips on coping with the physical and emotional effects of chemotherapy.

Colon Cancer Surgery

The most common treatment for CRC is surgery that aims to completely remove the cancerous polyps and malignant tissue. Due to surgical advances, a permanent colostomy is no longer necessary for a vast majority of patients. In a colostomy, an artificial opening is created in the patient’s abdomen to allow fecal matter to drain from the large intestine. Currently, as few as 15 percent of all CRC patients require a permanent colostomy.

Today, most colon cancer surgeries aim to spare the healthy, non-cancerous portions of the colon and rectum. However, patients typically still require a temporary colostomy while they heal from colon cancer surgery.

Chemotherapy for Colon Cancer

Chemotherapy is the process of using powerful anti-cancer drugs to kill the cancerous cells in a patient. Chemotherapy is often given as a follow-up treatment to surgery to remove any remaining cancerous cells that colon cancer surgery failed to excise. In addition, chemotherapy can be used to keep tumors from reappearing.

Most chemotherapy drugs are administered by injection or via a catheter. Other drugs can be taken orally. Hair loss, nausea and anemia are possible side effects of chemotherapy.

Radiotherapy for Colon Cancer

Radiotherapy is used frequently to treat colon cancer patients. During the procedure, a doctor administers localized, high-energy X-rays to destroy cancerous cells.

Radiotherapy can be used to reduce the size of a tumor before surgery. Malignant tissue that remains following surgery can also be destroyed with radiotherapy.

Experimental Colon Cancer Treatments

Today, researchers are looking for new ways to treat colon cancer. Immunotherapy, also called biological therapy or biotherapy, works by stimulating and boosting the body’s immune system to fight off diseased cells.

Immunotherapy for colon cancer is only one of the promising experimental treatments.

Resources

Lee, Dennis (reviewed August 29, 2007). Colon Cancer (Colorectal Cancer). Retrieved October 9, 2007, from the MedicineNet.com Web site: http://www.medicinenet.com/colon_cancer/article.htm.

Mayo Colin Staff (August 17, 2007). Colon cancer. Retrieved October 9, 2007, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/colon-cancer/DS00035.