The treatment of colorectal cancer can include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or targeted therapies. Depending on the stage of the cancer, two or more of these treatments may be combined at the same time, or used one after another.
Chemotherapy involves the use of special drugs designed to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is often used after surgery to control tumor growth or to relieve symptoms of colorectal cancer. However, while destroying cancer cells, chemotherapy also damages healthy cells and can cause some significant side effects.
Radiation therapy involves the use of a certain type of energy, called ionizing radiation, to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation therapy injures or destroys cells, making it difficult for these cells to continue to grow and divide. The goal of radiation therapy is to damage as many cancer cells as possible, while limiting harm to nearby healthy tissue. In colorectal cancer, radiation is used primarily to shrink tumors prior to surgery or to kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery.
The primary treatment for colorectal cancer is surgery to remove the cancer. There are several surgical options that may be considered, depending on the stage of the cancer. For early stage cancer, the surgical procedure is called a local excision. Colon resection, often referred to as colectomy, may be necessary if the tumor is too big to be removed by local excision.
Colectomy surgeries are designed to remove part or all of the large intestine. The specific type of colectomy performed depends upon the extent of the disease. For example, during a partial colectomy, a specific section of the colon is removed. A hemicolectomy involves the removal of half the colon. A proctocolectomy is the name for the procedure to remove the colon, anus, and rectum.
In some cases, the results of colon surgery will require an alternate path for waste to leave the body. This surgery creates a new opening in the abdomen called an ostomy. The end of the intestine that protrudes through the abdominal wall is called a stoma.
If you’ve been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, your healthcare team will discuss your options with you, and work to develop the best treatment or combination of treatments for your condition.