Colorectal cancer is cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. Sometimes it is called colon cancer, for short. As the drawing shows, the colon is the large intestine or large bowel. The rectum is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus.
Sometimes abnormal growths, called polyps, form in the colon or rectum. Over time, some polyps may turn into cancer. Screening tests can find polyps so they can be removed before turning into cancer. Screening also helps find colorectal cancer at an early stage when treatment works best.
Colorectal polyps and colorectal cancer do not always cause symptoms, especially at first. Someone could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. That is why getting screened regularly for colorectal cancer is so important. The symptoms that show up include:
If you have any of these symptoms talk to a doctor, they may be caused by something else other than cancer, and only way to know is to get tested by a doctor.
The treatment most likely to help you depends on your particular situation, including the location of your cancer, its stage, and your other health concerns. Treatment for colon cancer usually involves surgery to remove the cancer. Other treatments, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy, might also be recommended.
Surgery for early-stage colon cancer
If your colon cancer is very small, your doctor may recommend a minimally invasive approach to surgery, such as:
Surgery for more advanced colon cancer
If the cancer has grown into or through your colon, your surgeon may recommend:
Surgery for advanced cancer
If your cancer is very advanced or your overall health very poor, your surgeon may recommend an operation to relieve a blockage of your colon or other conditions to improve your symptoms. This surgery is not done to cure cancer, but instead to relieve signs and symptoms, such as a blockage, bleeding or pain.
In specific cases where the cancer has spread only to the liver or lung, but your overall health is otherwise good, your doctor may recommend surgery or other localized treatments to remove the cancer. Chemotherapy may be used before or after this type of procedure. This approach provides a chance to be free of cancer over the long term.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy for colon cancer is usually given after surgery if the cancer is larger or has spread to the lymph nodes. In this way, chemotherapy may kill any cancer cells that remain in the body and help reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.
Chemotherapy might also be used before an operation to shrink a large cancer so that it is easier to remove with surgery.
Chemotherapy can also be used to relieve symptoms of colon cancer that cannot be removed with surgery or that has spread to other areas of the body. Sometimes it is combined with radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy uses powerful energy sources, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. It might be used to shrink a large cancer before an operation so that it can be removed more easily.
When surgery is not an option, radiation therapy might be used to relieve symptoms, such as pain. Sometimes radiation is combined with chemotherapy.
Targeted drug treatments focus on specific abnormalities present within cancer cells. By blocking these abnormalities, targeted drug treatments can cause cancer cells to die.
Targeted drugs are usually combined with chemotherapy. Targeted drugs are typically reserved for people with advanced colon cancer.
Immunotherapy is a drug treatment that uses your immune system to fight cancer. Your body's disease-fighting immune system may not attack your cancer because the cancer cells produce proteins that blind the immune system cells from recognizing the cancer cells. Immunotherapy works by interfering with that process.
Immunotherapy is usually reserved for advanced colon cancer. Your doctor might have your cancer cells tested to see if they are likely to respond to this treatment.
Supportive (palliative) care
Palliative care is specialized medical care that focuses on providing relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness. Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specially trained professionals that work with you, your family, and your other doctors to provide an extra layer of support that complements your ongoing care.
Palliative care teams aim to improve the quality of life for people with cancer and their families. This form of care is offered alongside curative or other treatments you may be receiving.
When palliative care is used along with all the other appropriate treatments, people with cancer may feel better and live longer.
Descriptions of the common types of treatments used for colorectal cancer are listed below, followed by a brief outline of treatment options listed by stage. Your care plan may also include treatment for symptoms and side effects, an important part of cancer care.
Cancer treatment causes significant financial burden, especially in developing countries such as the Philippines. This led the Philippine Department of Health to create the Z-Package colorectal cancer benefit program, an insurance system specifically designed to treat Filipinos with colorectal cancers with early to locally advanced-stage disease. The main goal of this program is to optimize treatment outcomes for this curable disease without causing financial toxicity.