About chemotherapy for bowel cancer
This page tells you about chemotherapy for bowel cancer (colorectal cancer). You can find the following information
About chemotherapy for bowel cancer
Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. They work by disrupting the growth of cancer cells. The drugs circulate in the bloodstream around the body.
You may have chemotherapy before surgery for cancer of the back passage (rectal cancer). You are likely to have this with radiotherapy (chemoradiation). The aim is to shrink the cancer and make it easier to remove during surgery.
You may have chemotherapy after surgery for colon or rectal cancer. This treatment is to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back and is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
You may also have chemotherapy as a treatment for bowel cancer that has spread to another part of the body.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating bowel cancer section.
Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. The drugs work by disrupting the growth of cancer cells. The drugs circulate in the bloodstream around the body.
The chemotherapy drugs doctors commonly use to treat bowel cancer include
- Fluorouracil (also called 5FU) – often given with a vitamin called folinic acid
- Capecitabine (Xeloda)
- Oxaliplatin (Eloxatin)
- Irinotecan (Campto)
The links above take you to information about the individual drugs and their side effects.
You may have chemotherapy before surgery for cancer of the back passage (rectal cancer). The chemotherapy aims to shrink the cancer and make it easier to remove during surgery. Chemotherapy before surgery is called neo adjuvant chemotherapy (pronounced nee-oh-ad-joo-vant). You are likely to have this alongside radiotherapy (chemoradiation).
You may have chemotherapy after surgery for bowel cancer. This is to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back and is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
You may also have chemotherapy as a treatment for bowel cancer that has spread (advanced bowel cancer).
We don't yet know much scientifically about how some dietary or herbal supplements may interact with chemotherapy. Some could be harmful. It is very important to let your doctors know if you take any supplements. Or if you are prescribed remedies by alternative or complementary therapy practitioners.
Talk to your specialist about any other tablets or medicines you take while you are having active treatment. We have information about the safety of herbal, vitamin and diet supplements in our complementary therapies section.
Some studies seem to suggest that fish oil preparations may affect how well chemotherapy drugs work. If you are taking, or thinking of taking, these supplements talk to your doctor about whether they could affect your treatment.
For information about having chemotherapy, look at our main chemotherapy section. It explains the treatment in detail including
- What chemotherapy involves
- How chemo is planned
- How you have treatment
- General chemo side effects
- Side effects of specific drugs
- Living with chemotherapy
Our general cancer organisations page has details of information services you can contact for more information about cancer and treatment. There are also books and booklets available, some of which are free.
If you have any questions about chemotherapy for bowel cancer, contact our cancer information nurses. They would be happy to help.
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Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team