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Chemotherapy with radiotherapy for rectal cancer

Men and women discussing bowel cancer

This page is about giving chemotherapy with radiotherapy treatment for rectal cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Chemoradiotherapy for rectal cancer

Specialists often treat cancer in the back passage with radiotherapy, either before or after surgery. Fluorouracil (5FU) or capecitabine chemotherapy makes the cancer cells more sensitive to radiation. So you are likely to have chemotherapy at the same time as the radiotherapy treatment. This treatment is called chemoradiation, chemoradiotherapy, or concomitant chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Having chemotherapy

You may have fluorouracil as a series of injections into a vein, or through a drip (an infusion), or as an infusion through a pump you wear 24 hours a day. Or you take capecitabine as tablets every morning and evening during the radiotherapy treatment.

Side effects of chemoradiotherapy

Having chemotherapy and radiotherapy together can make the side effects worse. The combined treatment may make you feel very tired. You may also have diarrhoea, feel sick, have a low resistance to infection, need to pass urine more often and have sore skin in the treatment area.
 

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Combining radiotherapy and chemotherapy for rectal cancer

Specialists often treat rectal cancer with radiotherapy either before or after surgery. This can help to stop the cancer from coming back. It can also shrink the cancer in the back passage and make it easier to remove surgically.

You are likely to have chemotherapy at the same time as the radiotherapy treatment. The chemotherapy makes the cancer cells more sensitive to the radiation. So this combined treatment is likely to be more successful than radiotherapy on its own. It is also called chemoradiation, chemoradiotherapy or concomitant chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

The chemotherapy drugs doctors use most often with radiotherapy are

 

Having fluorouracil or capecitabine

You may have 5FU in the following ways

  • Through a drip (an infusion)
  • As an infusion through a pump you wear 24 hours a day
  • As a series of injections into a vein before radiotherapy treatment

You take capecitabine as tablets every morning and evening during the radiotherapy treatment.

 

Chemoradiotherapy side effects

Having chemotherapy and radiotherapy together can make the side effects of the treatments worse. The combined treatment may make you feel very tired. You may also have diarrhoea, feel sick, and have a low resistance to infection. The radiotherapy may make you feel that you need to pass urine more often and can cause very sore skin in the treatment area.

There is information about the side effects of fluorouracil and the side effects of capecitabine in our chemotherapy section. You can find information about the side effects of rectal radiotherapy in the radiotherapy section.

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Updated: 20 August 2013