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In most cases, colon cancer begins as a benign growth (polyp) on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. If left untreated, some types of polyps can transform into cancer, a slow process that usually takes up to several years. However, not all polyps become cancerous.

Colon cancer treatment typically involves a combination of therapies, such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or targeted therapy. Some patients may also elect to participate in a clinical trial.

Surgery for colon cancer

Surgery is the primary form of treatment for colon cancer. The goal is to remove the entire tumor and reconstruct the bowel, if possible, to restore bowel function. Some commonly performed procedures include:

  • Polypectomy - A surgeon will remove the cancerous polyp(s).
  • Partial colectomy (colon resection) - After removing the section of the colon containing the tumor and some surrounding healthy tissues, the surgeon will perform an anastomosis to reconnect the healthy colon sections.
  • Surgical resection with colostomy - After removing the section of the colon containing the tumor, the surgeon will perform a colostomy to move the bowel to an opening in the abdominal wall if the healthy colon sections cannot be reconnected.
  • Radiofrequency ablation - A surgeon will use heat to destroy the cancerous cells.      

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for colon cancer

Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment that uses powerful drugs to fight cancer. After being administered intravenously or orally, the drugs enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body to destroy cancerous cells that have broken away from the primary tumor and could begin to grow elsewhere.

Chemotherapy can be used at various stages of colon cancer treatment. For instance, it may be given prior to surgery to shrink a tumor and may it easier to remove. It can also be given after surgery to target residual cancer cells and help prevent a recurrence.

Although radiation therapy is generally not used as a standalone treatment for colon cancer, a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy (chemoradiation) may be used after surgery to help destroy any remaining cancer cells. In some cases, chemotherapy can enhance the effectiveness of radiation therapy for colon cancer.

Targeted therapy for colon cancer

Targeted therapy treats cancer by targeting certain proteins that control the growth, replication and spread of the cancerous cells. In some cases, a type of targeted therapy known as monoclonal antibody therapy may be considered for colon cancer treatment. Monoclonal antibody therapy uses lab-created antibodies that are designed to attach to specific targets on cancer cells or on other cells that promote the growth of the cancer cells. The antibodies ultimately destroy the cancer cells.

Colon cancer clinical trials

Colon cancer clinical trials are important research studies that are performed to evaluate the effectiveness of a novel treatment option—such as a new surgical technique, chemotherapy drug or drug combination—compared to the current standard of care. These studies also offer patients unique opportunities to benefit from promising new treatments before those options are made available for use in other settings. Each trial is individualized based on many variables and overseen by a team of oncologists and research specialists.

Frequently asked questions about colon cancer treatment

The following FAQs-related articles provide additional information about colon cancer treatment:

Benefit from world-class care at Moffitt Cancer Center

The multispecialty team in Moffitt’s acclaimed Gastrointestinal Oncology Program takes an individualized approach to colon cancer treatment with the goal of helping each patient achieve the best possible outcome and quality of life. If you would like to talk with a specialist at Moffitt, you can request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or submitting a new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.


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