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Colorectal Cancer - Treatment Overview

You and your doctor will work together to decide what your treatment should be. You will consider your own preferences and your general health. But the stage of your cancer is the most important tool for choosing your treatment. Staging is a way for your doctor to tell how far, if at all, your cancer has spread.


Surgery is almost always used to remove colorectal cancer. Sometimes a simple operation can be done during a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy to remove small polyps and a small amount of tissue around them. But in most cases, a major operation is needed to remove the cancer and part of the colon or rectum around it. If cancer has spread to another part of your body, such as the liver, you may need more far-reaching surgery.


Chemotherapy uses medicines to destroy cancer cells throughout the body. Several medicines are often used together.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses X-rays to destroy cancer cells. This is used for some types of cancer in the rectum. Radiation therapy is often combined with surgery or chemotherapy. To learn more, see Other Treatment.

Cancers that have not spread beyond the colon or rectum may need only surgery. If the cancer has spread, you may need radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or both.

Side effects of treatment

Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation can have serious side effects. But your medical team will help you manage the side effects of your treatment. This may include medicines for pain after surgery or medicines to control nausea and vomiting if you have chemotherapy.

Talk with your doctor and medical team about your side effects. Some side effects, such as pain or tingling in your hands or feet that gets worse (peripheral neuropathy), may be a sign that your medicines need to be changed.

For tips on how to manage side effects at home, see Home Treatment.

Regular checkups

After you have had colorectal cancer, your chances of having it again go up. It's important to keep seeing your doctor and be tested regularly to help find any returning cancer or new polyps early. After your treatment, you will need regular checkups by a family doctor, general practitioner, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, or surgeon, depending on your case.

When cancer comes back or spreads

Colorectal cancer comes back in about half of people who have surgery to remove the cancer.5 The cancer may be more likely to come back after surgery if it was not found in an early stage. Cancer that has spread or comes back is harder to treat, but sometimes treatments are successful. For more information, see the topic Colorectal Cancer, Metastatic and Recurrent.

Support and resources

Finding out that you have cancer can change your life. You may feel like your world has turned upside down and you have lost all control. Talking with family, friends, or a counselor can really help. Ask your doctor about support groups. Or call the American Cancer Society (1-800-227-2345) or visit its website at

To learn more about colon and rectal cancer, go to the website of the National Cancer Institute at

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 29, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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