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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

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Colon Cancer Treatment: What You Need to Know

Today, there are more colon cancer treatment options available -- and many may offer new hope for patients.

Deciding What's Next continued...

Chemotherapy ("Chemo"). Your doctor will use drugs to fight cancer. You might take some medications by mouth; you'll get others through your veins. The goal is to kill cancer cells that might have hung on after surgery.

There are "standard" chemotherapy treatments, like 5-fluorouracil (5-FU). Doctors are also doing clinical trials to see if new drugs, like those that are already approved for other types of cancers, may work better.

Radiation. This technique uses high-energy rays (like X-rays) to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It may be used before surgery or after surgery if doctors think cancer cells have been left behind. Radiation lowers the odds your cancer will return. It's sometimes given with chemotherapy, which makes radiation more effective. But when they're used together, you could have more side effects than if you used just one.

Targeted therapies. These are drugs that home in on the changes in genes and proteins that cause cancer. They tend to have different – and often fewer – side effects than chemotherapy.Bevacizumab (Avastin), cetuximab (Erbitux), and panitumumab (Vectibix) are a few examples.

"In most cases, targeted therapies are a second line, a.k.a. 'next step,' treatment for people who need more treatment than traditional chemotherapy," Dietz says. "Research shows that these drugs are often able to lengthen the lives of patients with advanced colon cancer," though they don't work for everyone. Some cancers with certain gene mutations don't respond to targeted therapies.

This treatment can be used with chemotherapy or alone if chemo doesn't work.

Ablation and embolization. These destroy tumors without removing them. They're used in combination with other therapies, like surgery and chemotherapy. Your doctor may suggest one of these techniques if your colon cancer has spread to your liver.

Immunotherapy. This treatment relies on vaccines that use your body's immune system to fight cancer more effectively. Some of these may prevent colon cancer from coming back. In some clinical trials, immunotherapy has helped patients with advanced cancer stay in remission for a long time. Ask your doctor if you may be eligible for a clinical trial.

Complementary therapies. Acupuncture and massage may help ease some of the side effects of colon cancer and chemo. Researchers are also exploring whether different diets may help reduce symptoms. Keep in mind that there are no known alternative "cures" for colon cancer. Always tell your medical team about the complementary therapies you're using or considering.

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