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Chemotherapy uses anticancer, or cytotoxic, drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat colorectal cancer. Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the drugs, doses and schedules of chemotherapy. You may also receive other treatments.
Chemotherapy is given for different reasons. You may have chemotherapy to:
Chemotherapy is usually a systemic therapy. This means that the drugs travel through the bloodstream to reach and destroy cancer cells all over the body, including those that may have broken away from the primary tumour in the colon or rectum.
The most common chemotherapy drugs used to treat colorectal cancer are:
The following chemotherapy combinations are used to treat colorectal cancer. Leucovorin is a drug that helps 5-fluorouracil work better.
If colorectal cancer doesn’t respond to these drugs or if it recurs, you may be offered targeted therapy. Irinotecan or a chemotherapy combination with irinotecan may also be used if it wasn’t used before.
Chemoradiation is treatment that combines chemotherapy with radiation therapy. Chemotherapy is given during the same time period as radiation therapy. Some types of chemotherapy make radiation therapy more effective.
Chemoradiation is often used before surgery (called neoadjuvant therapy) for rectal cancer. 5-fluorouracil or capecitabine are the drugs usually given in chemoradiation.
Hepatic arterial infusion may be used to treat liver metastases when cancer has only spread to the liver and it can’t be removed with surgery. It delivers chemotherapy directly to liver tumours through the main artery of the liver (called the hepatic artery). Floxuridine (FUDR) is the most common chemotherapy drug used for hepatic arterial infusion.
Hepatic arterial infusion tends to have fewer side effects than systemic chemotherapy. But it is not used as often as systemic chemotherapy because it has to be done in a hospital by a large healthcare team who are trained to give this treatment.
Details on specific drugs change quite regularly. Find out more about sources of drug information and where to get details on specific drugs.
The Canadian Cancer Society is actively lobbying the federal government to establish a national caregivers strategy to ensure there is more financial support for this important group of people.