Intestines

Colon Cancer Treatment: Chemotherapy

Highlights 

  • Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells in your body.
  • Colorectal cancer treatment may require chemotherapy to shrink cancer before surgery or treat cancer left behind after surgery.
  • Two or more drugs are typically combined when using chemotherapy for colorectal cancer.
  • The right course of therapy will depend on the size, location, and stage of the cancer. 
  • eDrugstore makes it easier to catch colorectal cancer early with at-home colorectal cancer screening kits. 

Chemotherapy is commonly used before or after surgery to treat colorectal cancer. It may also be used to treat cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. Your care team will work with you to determine the best treatment plan for your situation. 

What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. It’s commonly used to treat colon cancer after surgery or if the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. It can be used in combination with other therapies, such as radiation therapy. 

Chemotherapy drugs can be given directly into the vein or taken orally. It can be used at different times throughout treatment for colon cancer. 

For example, it may be administered:

  • Before surgery (neoadjuvant chemotherapy). Neoadjuvant chemotherapy describes chemotherapy used prior to surgery to help shrink the cancer and make it easier to remove with surgery. This is commonly used for rectal cancer.
  • After surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy). Adjuvant chemotherapy describes when chemotherapy is used to help clear the body of any remaining cancer cells that weren’t caught by a previous treatment or surgery. This approach helps to lower the risk of colon cancer coming back. 

How is Chemotherapy Administered?

There are different ways to use chemotherapy to treat colon cancer. Treatment involves one of the following methods:

  • Systemic chemotherapy. Systemic chemotherapy describes a process where drugs are administered directly into your bloodstream through a vein or by mouth. The drugs will circulate through your bloodstream and spread throughout your body.
  • Regional chemotherapy. Regional chemotherapy describes a process where drugs are administered directly into an artery leading to the area of your body affected by the cancer. This helps to focus the chemotherapy on the cells in a specific area. This can also help to reduce side effects because less of your body is exposed to the treatment.

Chemotherapy is delivered in cycles, followed by rest periods. These cycles are typically two to three weeks long. This helps to give your body time to recover from side effects between each treatment. 

The type of chemotherapy administered depends on the risk level of the cancer. The length of treatment depends on how well your treatment is working and the side effects you’re experiencing. 

What Drugs are Used for Colon Cancer Treatment?

Numerous drugs are used to treat colon cancer. Chemotherapy drugs are commonly combined for the best treatment outcomes. Chemotherapy may be used alongside a targeted therapy drug as well. 

The best treatment for you will depend on the size, location, and stage of the cancer. It will also depend on other health conditions and health concerns. Your provider can help you determine the best treatment plan for your situation. 

Drugs commonly used to treat colon cancer include:

Chemotherapy drugs commonly cause side effects that can include:

  • Diarrhea 
  • Hair loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mouth sores
  • Nail changes
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Skin changes
  • Weight loss

Other side effects are specific to the drugs you’re taking. Talk to your provider about potential side effects prior to treatment or if new symptoms appear during treatment.

Fluorouracil (Adrucil)

Fluorouracil is an intravenous chemotherapy drug that’s commonly given in combination with other cancer drugs. 

In addition to common chemotherapy side effects, fluorouracil may cause hand-foot syndrome. This syndrome typically starts as redness in your hands and feet, which can lead to pain and sensitivity in your palms and soles. This can also cause skin blistering or painful sores.

Tell your provider right away if you experience any symptoms of allergic reaction, severe and ongoing diarrhea, or early symptoms of hand-foot syndrome. 

Capecitabine (Xeloda)

Capecitabine is a chemotherapy drug given as an oral tablet. It can be used alone or in combination with other cancer drugs. It’s commonly used to treat colon or rectal cancer and is sometimes used once cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

In addition to common chemotherapy side effects, capecitabine can cause hand-foot syndrome. It can also cause jaundice. 

Irinotecan (Camptosar)

Irinotecan is an intravenous chemotherapy drug. It’s often used in combination with other cancer drugs to treat colon or rectal cancer.

Though diarrhea is a common side effect for chemotherapy drugs, it can become more severe with irinotecan. Severe cases of diarrhea can become life threatening and should be treated immediately. Your provider may recommend taking an antidiarrheal drug while being treated with irinotecan. 

Oxaliplatin (Eloxatin)

Oxaliplatin is an intravenous cytotoxic chemotherapy drug. It’s commonly used alongside fluorouracil and leucovorin to treat stage III colon cancer or advanced colon or rectal cancer. 

Nerve damage, also called neuropathy, is a common side effect of oxaliplatin. You might experience numbness, tingling, or pain in your hands or feet. It might also cause pain and sensitivity in your throat, esophagus, and the palms of your hands.

Some people may be sensitive to oxaliplatin. Ask for immediate assistance if you notice any symptoms of allergic reaction or any of the following:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Back pain
  • Chest tightness
  • Skin rash
  • Trouble breathing

Tipiracil and Trifluridine (Lonsurf)

Tipiracil and trifluridine is a combination chemotherapy drug given as an oral tablet. This combination treatment is typically administered after other treatments have proven unsuccessful. It’s commonly used after cancer has spread to other parts of the body. 

In addition to common chemotherapy side effects, tipiracil and trifluridine affect your immune system. This can make you more prone to serious infections. Your provider will monitor your blood work regularly while you’re taking this drug.

Stay On Top of Your Colorectal Health with eDrugstore

Colon cancer is both detectable and treatable. The earlier you spot colon cancer, the more likely you are to have positive treatment outcomes. eDrugstore is making it easier than ever to stay on top of your colorectal health, thanks to at-home screening kits.

Follow our blog to learn more about topics like testing for colorectal cancer from the comfort of your own home. 

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