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Chemo Treatment for Colon Cancer

written by: Vikas Vij • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 2/16/2011

Colon cancer chemo treatment is necessary if the disease has reached an advanced stage. But in some cases, adjuvant or neoadjuvant chemotherapy may have to be used even during the early stages of colon cancer.

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    Chemotherapy for Colon Cancer

    Colon cancer chemo treatment may be used at different stages of the disease. Primary chemotherapy treatment may be necessary when the colon cancer is at an advanced stage or has already metastasized to other body parts. In such condition, it may not be possible to remove the cancer surgically. Chemo treatment is the next best available alternative in such situation, which can help to reduce the size of tumor, lessen the symptoms and extend life.

    Adjuvant chemotherapy treatment may be used after the surgery to ensure that any remaining cancerous cells are destroyed. In some situations, the operation team of doctors may also decide to opt for neoadjuvant chemotherapy, which is administered prior to the surgery. This may be done if the tumor is large, and chemo treatment may shrink its size, and make it more manageable for its surgical removal. Sometimes chemotherapy may be used in combination with radiotherapy before or after the surgery.

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    Colon Cancer Chemo Treatment Drugs

    The most commonly used drug for colon cancer chemotherapy is 5-Fluorouracil, or 5-FU. This drug has been used for several years for colon cancer. In most cases, this drug is administered in combination with a vitamin called leucovorin. This combination makes 5-FU more effective. This drug is usually delivered intravenously for faster response. However, recently a pill version of 5-FU, called Xeloda, has also come into use.

    A number of new and advanced chemo drugs for colon cancer are also being used by doctors. Some of the key drugs include Vectibix, Erbitux, Eloxatin, Avastin and Camptosar. Some of these drugs may be used in combination with 5-FU to treat cases of metastatic colon cancer. Erbitux is given intravenously in combination with Camptosar, or individually. Vectibix is generally administered along with 5-FU and leucovorin.

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    Chemotherapy for Advanced Stages of Colon Cancer

    At Stage II, the colon cancer may have spread beyond the wall of the colon, but not to the lymph nodes. The standard treatment at this stage is surgery, but in specific situations, the doctors may recommend surgery to be followed by chemo treatment. If the cancer appears to be aggressive or highly abnormal or has obstructed or perforated the colon, adjuvant chemotherapy may be recommended.

    At Stage III of colon cancer, the lymph nodes have been affected by cancer. Colectomy followed by adjuvant chemotherapy is the recommended approach in such condition. It may be the Folfox regimen or a combination of 5-FU and leucovorin. If the cancer has spread from the colon to distant body parts, surgery may not produce very effective results at this stage. Chemo treatment may be used at this stage to relieve the symptoms to some extent and prolong the patient’s life.

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    Side Effects of Chemo Treatment for Colon Cancer

    Chemotherapy may also tend to destroy some healthy cells in the body along with the diseased cells. This may result in various side effects such as vomiting and nausea, loss of hair, loss of appetite, rashes on the skin, mouth sores and blisters, and diarrhea.

    Chemo treatment may also have an adverse impact on the healthy cells of the bone marrow. The destruction of healthy cells may cause a lower blood count of WBCs. The patient may become more prone to infections, and may bleed or bruise easily due to poor blood platelet count. Tiredness and fatigue may occur due to anemic conditions resulting from a low count of RBCs.