This page discusses the use of chemotherapy for the treatment of colorectal cancer. For a thorough review of chemotherapy for cancer treatment, please see the
chemotherapy treatment monograph
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. In order to attack cancer cells that may have traveled to other parts of the body, the drugs work systemically—entering through the bloodstream and traveling throughout the body—to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given either alone or along with radiation therapy. When given alone it is given in a higher dose designed to kill off cancer cells. When given along with radiation therapy it is delivered at a lower dose, and is designed to make the cancer more sensitive to the radiation. Chemotherapy is usually given by vein, but some forms can be given by mouth as well. Your medical oncologist will tell you how many cycles or courses of chemotherapy are best for you.
There is some debate about how many cycles of chemotherapy are used in the treatment of colon and rectal cancer. Generally, when patients get chemotherapy alone for colon or rectal cancer (after
), they receive between 6 to 12 cycles. When it is given along with
, the patient may get two cycles alone, and then two more cycles with the radiation therapy, and then another two to eight cycles after the radiation therapy is done. Different schedules are used by different oncologists, and you should discuss your exact plan with your doctor
Chemotherapy Drugs Used for Colorectal Cancer
Most colorectal cancer regimens combine one or more chemotherapy drugs together to create a stronger attack on cancer cells. The most commonly used drugs include:
Recently, two new drugs have been approved for patients with advanced stage colon cancer:
Side Effects and Possible Complications
Most chemotherapy does result in certain long- and/or short-term side effects, which are caused by the destruction of normal cells in addition to cancer cells. The side effects and amount of time required in the doctor’s office will depend on the type of chemotherapy you receive, as well as how many cycles you receive and how often.
The most common chemotherapy-associated side effects are:
Nausea and vomiting
Fatigue or tiredness
Decreased blood counts
Sores inside the mouth
Numbness in the hands and feet
Increased urgency to have a bowel movement or urinate
When chemotherapy is given at a lower dose, as when it is given along with radiation, these side effects are less common. However, most people still feel fatigued.
Medications may help to prevent or reduce side effects of treatment, or to manage certain side effects once they occur. You can develop side effects from the treatment and/or from the cancer itself. Tell your doctor when you notice a new symptom, and ask him or her if any of these medications are appropriate for you.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a