Treatment Options for Colon & Rectal Cancers
At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers (RMCC), we feel that you should be both comfortable and confident when it comes to your colorectal cancer treatment, which is why our goal is to make sure you have all the information you need. The more you know about what to expect, the more you’ll feel empowered throughout your cancer care.
Treatment is Not One-Size-Fits-All
Typically, the choice of treatment depends on the location of the tumor in the colon or rectum and the stage of the disease. Treatment for colorectal cancer may involve surgery, chemotherapy, biological therapy, or radiation therapy. Depending on your particular situation, you may even have a combination of treatments.
Colon and rectal cancer treatments are either local therapy or systemic therapy:
- Local therapies include surgery and radiation therapy. These treatments remove or destroy cancer in or near the colon or rectum. When colorectal cancer has spread to other parts of the body, local therapy may be used to control the disease in those specific areas.
- Systemic therapies include chemotherapy and biological therapy. The drugs from these treatments enter the bloodstream and destroy or control cancer throughout the body.
Keep in mind that colon and rectal cancer, although similar in many ways, aren’t necessarily treated in the same manner. Rest assured, we will take the time to describe your treatment choices and the expected results to ensure that your individualized, cancer care plan meets all of your needs.
Types of Treatments Used for Colorectal Cancers
In most cases, especially in early-stage colorectal cancer, surgery is the most common form of treatment. Because surgery needs to be done on a clean and empty colon, you will be put on a special diet before surgery and may need to use laxative drinks and enemas to get all of the waste out of your colon.
Surgery During Colonoscopy
Sometimes, polyps can be surgically removed during a colonoscopy with the following procedures:
- Polypectomy. Here, the cancer is removed as part of the polyp, which is cut at its stalk (the part that looks like the stem of a mushroom). This is usually done by passing a wire loop through the colonoscope to cut the polyp off the wall of the colon with an electric current.
- Local excision. This is a slightly more involved procedure where tools are used through the colonoscope to remove small cancers on the inside lining of the colon along with a small amount of surrounding healthy tissue on the wall of the colon.
When cancer or polyps are taken out this way, the doctor doesn’t have to cut into the abdomen (belly).
If your colorectal cancer has been caught early, it may be removed with the aid of a thin, lighted tube called a laparoscope. During this procedure, three or four tiny cuts are made into your abdomen and the laparoscope is used so the surgeon can see inside. The tumor and part of the healthy tissue are removed. Nearby lymph nodes also may be removed. Your surgeon will also check the rest of your intestine and your liver to see if the cancer has spread.
Unlike laparoscopy, open surgery requires a larger abdominal incision in order to remove the tumor and part of the healthy colon or rectum. Some nearby lymph nodes are also removed. Your surgeon will also check the rest of your intestine and your liver to see if the cancer has spread.
What to Expect After Surgery
Many times, when a section of your colon or rectum is removed, your surgeon can usually reconnect the healthy parts. However, sometimes reconnection is not possible. In cases like this, it will be necessary for your surgeon to create a new path for waste to leave your body. To do this, your surgeon makes an opening (stoma) in the wall of the abdomen, connects the upper end of the intestine to the stoma, and closes the other end. This operation used to create the stoma is called a colostomy. A flat bag fits over the stoma to collect waste, and a special adhesive holds it in place.
For most people, the stoma is temporary. It is needed only until the colon or rectum heals from surgery. After healing takes place, the surgeon reconnects the parts of the intestine and closes the stoma. Some people, especially those with a tumor in the lower rectum, need a permanent stoma.
Chemotherapy is a common medical treatment used to treat a variety of cancers, including rectal and colon cancer. Its purpose is to kill cancer cells through the use of anticancer drugs. These drugs enter the bloodstream and can affect cancer cells all over the body. Typically, anticancer drugs are given through a vein, but some may be given by mouth. Rest assured, RMCC provides the most advanced chemotherapy treatments to thousands of patients every year throughout Colorado.
If your colorectal cancer has spread, you might receive a monoclonal antibody, which is a type of biological therapy. The monoclonal antibodies bind to colorectal cancer cells and interfere with cancer cell growth and the spread of cancer. Depending on your stage of cancer, you may receive chemotherapy at the same time.
Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It affects cancer cells only in the treated area.
At RMCC, we use different types of radiation therapy to treat cancer, which include:
- External radiation. In this method, the radiation comes from a machine. The most common type of machine used for radiation therapy is called a linear accelerator. In most cases, you will need to visit the cancer center for your treatment five days a week for several weeks.
- Internal radiation (implant radiation or brachytherapy). Internal radiation therapy involves implanting radioactive material in the body near or inside the tumor. Different types of brachytherapy implants include pellets, seeds, ribbons, wires, needles, capsules, balloons, or tubes. The implant is placed using catheters, small tubes inserted through veins or arteries without surgery. Depending on the type of material used, it may be left in for a few minutes, a few days, or permanently.
- Intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT). In some cases, radiation is given during surgery. This is known as IORT.
When you receive radiation treatment for cancer at RMCC, you will be in the hands of a highly-skilled radiation therapy team that has your best interests at heart. You can be certain that we will develop the best treatment plan possible to help you fight colorectal cancer.