Treatment is often classified into local therapy or systemic therapy. Local therapy means that it only treats the colon or rectum, and not any other parts of the body. Systemic therapy is treatment that goes around your entire body, treating cancer cells that may be present outside of the colon. A combination of local and systemic therapy may be given for CRC.
This article will focus on the systemic therapy options for CRC- chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.
Chemotherapy is medication that is used to stop the division of cells, causing cell death. Because cancer cells are abnormal and usually grow out of control, they are killed by chemotherapy. Unfortunately, chemotherapy can cause side effects because healthy cells are affected as well.
Chemotherapy can be given before surgery (called neoadjuvant chemo) or after surgery (adjuvant chemo).
To treat CRC, a combination of multiple chemotherapy medications are often given. These work against the cancer cells in different ways, so that the cancer is being killed more effectively. The chemotherapy medications used most often to treat CRC include:
- 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)
- Capecitabine (Xeloda)
If cancer has spread to other areas of the body, different chemotherapy medications may be given.
These medications are usually only given if colon cancer is advanced and has spread into other areas of the body. If the cancer has specific genetic mutations, such as mutations in the KRAS or BRAF genes, there may be medications available that target those genes specifically.
Immunotherapy medications are usually intravenous medications that work by helping the immune system see any CRC cells in the body. This allows the immune system to help fight against cancer. Immunotherapy medications are most often used for advanced CRC.