There are a variety of treatments for early colorectal cancer, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
Bowel resection surgery is the most common treatment for early-stage colorectal cancer, and it can often provide a cure. The earlier the stage of the cancer, the more likely it is that surgery can cure it.
During surgery, the tumour is removed, along with some of the tissue nearby. If the area of bowel tissue that was removed is not too large, the pieces of bowel that are left over can be joined back together. In this case, the person can regain normal bowel function after surgery.
If a large section of bowel needs to be removed, it may not be possible to join the remaining sections of bowel together, which means that the person will need a colostomy. A colostomy is a procedure that moves the end of the large intestine through the wall of the abdomen so that solid body wastes can drain out of the body into a special bag.
Chemotherapy is the use of medications to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can have different roles in the treatment of colorectal cancer, including:
Adjuvant chemotherapy: This type of chemotherapy is given after surgery with the goal of reducing the risk that the cancer will come back. It is usually given for 6 months after surgery.
Adjuvant chemotherapy is usually given in standard doses of combinations of medications over a standard period of time. A particular combination of medications, doses, and duration together is called a regimen.
Common regimens and treatments that are used for adjuvant chemotherapy in colorectal cancer include:
- FOLFOX (a combination of leucovorin, 5-fluorouracil [also called 5-FU], and oxaliplatin)
- 5-FU with leucovorin
Neo-adjuvant chemotherapy: Sometimes, chemotherapy is used to shrink the tumour so that it will be easier to remove with surgery. This may be done for people with rectal cancer. Radiation is used along with the chemotherapy.
For people with rectal cancer, radiation therapy is used before or after surgery to reduce the risk that the cancer will come back.
People with early colon cancer have a variety of treatment options. To learn more about your options, see "Coping with Colorectal Cancer." It's also important to speak to your doctor about your treatment options and their benefits and risks. All treatments can cause side effects. However, side effects may be preventable, manageable, or reversible. Learn more about the possible side effects of cancer treatment and how you can cope.