After hearing the diagnosis of colon cancer, a patient’s immediate response is “what is the treatment for colon cancer and when can we begin?” The patient whose colon cancer is found in the early stage is very fortunate. Early detection leads to treatments that can result in a cure. In choosing from among a variety of treatments for colon cancer, the physician will bring in an oncologist as part of the treatment team.
If the colon cancer is found from a fecal occult blood test, then a colonoscopy is scheduled to get a full view of the intestines so the location of the cancer can be found. In other cases, a patient who has a routine colonoscopy is one step ahead in the treatment options. During the colonoscopy, small polyps can be removed for further lab evaluation.
Treatments for colon cancer depend on the stage or extent of the disease.When the colon cancer is found to be at a more progressed level, Stage II or III, additional surgery may be required. For advanced cancer with tumors that have damaged the intestines or protruded through the intestinal wall, the surgeon may have to removed a portion of the damaged area. The colon is resectioned and rejoined surgically.
Chemotherapy is not used for treatment in the early stage of colon cancer. Whether it is used in Stage II cancer depends on the treatment plan determined by the oncologist. The usual plan is to introduce chemotherapy for colon cancer at Stage III. Patients with Stage III colon cancer would have corrective surgery first then begin the chemotherapy treatments. The chemotherapy drug 5-Fluoruracil is the most common choice and is given in a series of treatments over six to eight months. Some Stage III patients may also receive radiation.
By Stage IV, treatments for colon cancer combine a series of chemotherapy drugs in oral or intravenous form. Radiation may or may not be considered depending on the location of the cancer and whether or not rectal cancer is involved. If the colon cancer spreads to the liver, a different treatment, burning or freezing sections of the liver may be the only remaining option.
Treatments for colon cancer in the early stages seek to remove the cancer and take out any polyps that could become cancerous. With ongoing monitoring annually, a person who remains cancer free is considered cured. For patients in the later stages, the treatments for colon cancer focus on removing the cancer, containing it to avoid spread to other organs and rapidly treating any instances of cancer spread.
Entering treatment for colon cancer is emotionally challenging for patients who fear the outcome. Here’s where early detection and regular colonoscopy screenings after age 50 make all the difference. Early detection and treatment survival rates are close to 90%. Even in Stage II and III, treatments for colon cancer are advanced to the level of improved results. Sadly for those whose cancer is found in Stage IV, treatments for colon cancer are limited and survival rates are low.
Treating Colon Cancer Without Surgery
Treatments for colon cancer typically involve some type of surgical procedure. The major diagnostic technique, colonoscopy, is a test done under anesthesia and allows for removal of polyps. In later stages of cancer where tumors and other damage occurs outside the colon, surgery is used to remove cancerous areas. The idea of surgery is fearful for many patients and they seek options for treating colon cancer without surgery
Chemotherapy is a non-surgical, medication approach to treating colon cancer. Actually chemotherapy is not one specific drug, but rather a method of delivering one drug or a combination of drugs. For patients whose colon cancer is discovered early, chemotherapy may be all the treatment needed. This is known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy. The objective is to use this drug therapy to shrink tumors so that surgery may not be required to remove them.
The oncologist chooses primary chemotherapy drugs based on the type and extent of cancer then administered to the patient in pill form or by intravenous injection under medical supervision. For cases where the cancer already caused significant damage or attacked an organ that cannot be removed, chemotherapy is the non-surgical treatment of choice to reduce the tumors.
Radiation therapy is another method of treating colon cancer without surgery. Radiation directs high energy rays to kill the cancer cells and also offers an ease of symptoms for advanced cancer patients. Radiation may be combined with chemotherapy however that double play is usually reserved for later stages of colon cancer. An external beam radiation uses a linear accelerator machine to deliver for a few minutes each day over several weeks. The radiation penetrates the skin, so no surgery, needles or invasive procedures are required.
Endocavitary radiation therapy is also delivered by a hand-held wand placed into the anus so the radiation is directed to the rectum without going through the abdomen. This targeted approach is effective for elderly patients and those who might otherwise face radical cancer surgery that would result in a colostomy and long recovery period.
Another medication approach to treating colon cancer without surgery is targeted therapies that attack cancer cells while ignoring healthy cells. Cetuximab (Erbitux) is a synthetic protein monoclonal antibody that was the first targeted therapy drug approved for treatment of colon cancer. This targeted therapy drug is administered by intravenous injection under medical supervision.
As the popularity of targeted therapy increases, more drugs are receiving FDA approval for treating colon cancer without surgery. Panitumumab (Vectibix) and Bevaxizumab (Avastin) are also monoclonal antibodies used with chemotherapy.
The new targeted therapy drugs show promise as treatment but at a hefty price . A typical 8 week treatment can cost $20,000 to $30,000 which is not covered by most insurance plans.
A final option for treating colon cancer without surgery is to participate in a clinical trial for a new medication. During the experimental drug trial, some participants get the new drug while others get a placebo or non-drug alternative. Participants do not know whether they are receiving the drug or the placebo.