Chemotherapy for colorectal cancer

chemo drip

How does chemotherapy work?

Chemotherapy is treatment with cytotoxic drugs that are given either intravenously (IV) or by mouth (pills). Cytotoxic drugs are toxic to cancer cells. These drugs travel through the bloodstream and keep cancer cells from growing, dividing, and making more cells.

Because chemotherapy (chemo) travels through the whole body, it can also damage healthy cells. This is why some chemo drugs can cause side effects such as hair loss, mouth sores, and nausea.

Chemotherapy is used to treat both colon and rectal cancer.

woman in chemo room

Goals for chemotherapy

The goals of chemotherapy for colorectal cancer depend on the stage and location of the cancer.

Chemotherapy may be given alone or as a part of a treatment plan that includes other types of treatments.

Chemo may be given at different times during treatment, including:

  • As primary treatment (curative chemotherapy): Chemo that is given to get rid of cancer and prevent it from coming back.
  • Before other treatments (neoadjuvant chemotherapy): Chemo that is given before surgery or radiation therapy to shrink tumors.
  • After other treatments (adjuvant chemotherapy): Chemo that is given after surgery or radiation therapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells.

Palliative chemotherapy

Even when cancer is not curable, your doctor may still recommend chemotherapy to improve quality of life. Chemo can sometimes slow the progression of the cancer, relieve cancer-related pain and discomfort, and extend survival.

a couple holding hands while seated

Does everyone have side effects from chemo?

Because colorectal cancer chemotherapy often damages healthy cells and tissues, side effects are common.

Many patients fear the side effects from treatment more than the cancer itself, but there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Side effects depend mainly on the type and extent of the chemotherapy.
  • Your side effects may not be the same as someone else’s.
  • Your side effects may change from one treatment session to the next.
5fu guide image

5-FU and Xeloda side effects

5-FU and Xeloda are two of the most commonly used chemotherapy drugs for colorectal cancer.

Our Side Effects vs. Symptoms Guidetalks about side effects that are specific If you are being treated with either of these drugs, it’s a good idea to keep this guide handy so you can be informed about their possible side effects.

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