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Treatment for Colorectal Cancer

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the primary ways to treat colorectal cancer. Targeted therapies known as monoclonal antibodies also are used along with chemotherapy. Patients may undergo one or more types of treatment, depending on the stage of the disease. Patients who qualify also have access to a variety of clinical trials.

Surgery for Colon Cancer

Most patients with colon cancer undergo surgery. This usually involves removing a length of normal colon on either side of the tumor and some of the lymph nodes. Physicians connect the two ends of the colon. People with colon cancer do not generally need a colostomy (an opening in the abdomen to eliminate body waste), but they may have a temporary colostomy. Minimally invasive surgical procedures such as the laparoscopic removal of the colon can also be used to treat colon cancer.

Surgery for Rectal Cancer

Although surgery is the main treatment for rectal cancer, some patients may have radiation and chemotherapy before surgery. The type and extent of the surgery depends on the location and stage of the disease. While many patients with rectal cancer will require a colostomy, the chances of this are reduced due to preoperative chemotherapy and radiation, along with newer surgical techniques.

Radiation Therapy for Colon and Rectal Cancer

Radiation therapy may be used before surgery for rectal cancer to shrink the tumor, making it more likely the surgeon can completely remove the tumor. Radiation is used in some cases after surgery if there are concerns that tumor cells were left behind.

Radiation may also be used to ease symptoms of advanced colon and rectal cancer.

Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are used as an alternative to surgery to cure anal cancers while sparing normal bowel function.


Chemotherapy after surgery increases the cure rate for patients with early colorectal cancer. In more advanced cases, chemotherapy reduces the symptoms of cancer and prolongs survival.

Patients may experience fatigue while undergoing chemotherapy. If other symptoms arise, symptoms should call a physician or nurse right away.

Antibody Therapy

Man-made proteins called monoclonal antibodies, along with chemotherapy drugs, are used to treat colorectal cancer. Antibody therapies are targeted methods that attack parts of the cancer cells that distinguish them from normal cells.

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