Colorectal Cancer: Your Treatment Options

If you have cancer in your colon or rectum, called colorectal cancer, there’s good news: More people are cured or live longer with this disease than ever before. That's partly because there are better treatments to choose from.

Be sure to discuss all the options with your doctor so you find the one that’s the best fit for you.

How Do I Choose the Right Treatment?

To start, you and your doctor will want to know:

  • How large your tumor is and how far the cancer has spread in your body (called the stage of your disease)
  • How well certain treatments will work for you
  • How healthy you are
  • The side effects of treatment
  • The option you’d prefer

These details will help your doctor recommend the best way to treat your cancer.

What Are My Options?

The most common treatments include:

Surgery. This is the way doctors treat most colorectal cancers. The best chance for a cure is to remove the tumor entirely. Usually, surgeons need to remove only the part of your colon or rectum that has the tumor. Your surgeon may do the operation with a few small cuts in your belly (called laparoscopy) instead of one long cut. You may have less pain and heal faster with this approach.

Ablation. This type of treatment is an option if you can't have surgery. It can destroy tumors without removing them. Sometimesdoctors use high-energy radio waves to kill the cancer. Or they may inject the tumor with alcohol or freeze it with a metal probe.

Chemotherapy. Chemo drugs destroy cancer cells or stop them from spreading throughout your body. You can take the medicines in pill form or through an IV. You can also get them in a blood vessel close to your tumor. There are many types of these drugs. Some work better together, so you may take two or more at the same time. You usually get the treatment for 2 or 4 weeks, then take a break.

You might have chemo after surgery to kill any cancer cells left behind. Or you could have it before an operation to make a tumor smaller and easier to remove. Chemo may help treat cancer pain, too. And it's often the best way to slow the spread of the disease to other parts of your body, such as your liver.

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The downside is that the drugs attack healthy cells as well as cancer. This can cause side effects like hair loss, vomiting, and mouth sores. You may also feel very tired and get sick easily. But these problems usually get better when your treatment is over.

Targeted treatments. These drugs treat changes in cells that lead to cancer. For instance, some cells have too much of a protein that helps them grow and thrive. Targeted drugs can stop it from working. Because these treatments only fight cancer cells, not healthy ones, they may give you fewer side effects than chemotherapy.

Radiation. This treatment uses high-energy waves to destroy cancer cells. You might have it before or after surgery to shrink the tumor or stop it from coming back.

Radiation may also help ease pain and other cancer symptoms. Side effects can include red, blistered skin, nausea, and problems with your bowels or bladder. These problems usually go away once the treatment ends.

What Else Should I Know?

You and your doctor will decide on your treatment together. When you’re choosing the one you want to try, think about:

  • The risks. Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of each treatment.
  • Side effects. How will you feel? Will you be able to do everyday tasks and the things you love?
  • Cost. Some cancer treatments, such as targeted drugs, are expensive. Be sure you know whether your insurance will pay for them.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on June 27, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: "What are the key statistics about colorectal cancer?" "How is colorectal cancer treated?" "Surgery for colorectal cancer," "Ablation and embolization to treat colorectal cancer," "Chemotherapy for colorectal cancer," "Targeted therapies for colorectal cancer," "Questions you may have about targeted cancer therapies," "Radiation therapy for colorectal cancer."

National Cancer Institute: "Colon Cancer Treatment."

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