Chemotherapy for colorectal cancer
Chemotherapy (chemo) is the use of drugs to fight cancer. The drugs may be put into a vein or given by mouth. These drugs enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body, making this treatment useful for cancers that have spread to distant organs.
Chemo is sometimes used before surgery to try to shrink the cancer and make surgery easier. It may also be given after surgery because it can increase the survival rate for patients with some stages of colorectal cancer. Chemo can also help relieve symptoms of advanced cancer and help people live longer.
In some cases, chemo drugs can be put into an artery leading to the part of the body with the tumor. This approach is called regional chemotherapy. Since the drugs go straight to area with the cancer, there may be fewer side effects. Regional chemotherapy is sometimes used for colon cancer that has spread to the liver
Side effects of chemo
While chemo kills cancer cells, it also damages some normal cells and this can cause side effects. These side effects will depend on the type of drugs given, the amount given, and how long treatment lasts. Common side effects could include:
- Hair loss
- Mouth sores
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased chance of infection (from low white blood cell counts)
- Easy bleeding or bruising after minor cuts or injuries (from low levels of platelets, which help the blood clot)
- Severe tiredness (fatigue) (from low levels of red blood cells)
There are also some side effects that only happen with certain drugs. Most side effects go away when treatment is over. For example, hair will grow back after treatment ends, though it may look different. Anyone who has problems with side effects should talk with their doctor or nurse, as there are often ways to help.
To learn more about chemo, please see our document, Understanding Chemotherapy: A Guide for Patients and Families.
Last Medical Review: 06/05/2012
Last Revised: 01/17/2013