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There are a wide variety of treatment options available for treating colorectal cancer. Treatments vary depending on the nature and location of the tumor and the stage of the disease. Colon cancer and rectal cancer are often treated differently. Some people have a combination of treatments. Some of the most common treatment options include:

The most common treatment for colon and rectal cancer is surgery, including the following types:

A small malignant polyp may be removed from your colon or upper rectum with a colonscope. Some small tumors in the lower rectum can be removed without a colonscope.

Early colon cancer may be removed with the aid of a thin, lighted tube. Three or four tiny cuts are made into your abdomen. The surgeon sees inside your abdomen with the laparoscope. The tumor and part of the healthy colon are removed. Nearby lymph nodes also may be removed. The surgeon checks the rest of your intestine and liver to see if the cancer has spread. Learn more about laparoscopy.

Open surgery
The surgeon makes a large cut into your abdomen to remove the tumor and part of the healthy colon or rectum.

Transanal Endoscopic Microsurgery (TEM)
A new, minimally invasive surgical procedure to remove select rectal tumors that would traditionally require more involved and invasive surgery. Learn more about transanal endoscopic microsurgery (TEM).

When a section of your colon or rectum is removed, the surgeon can usually reconnect the healthy parts. However, sometimes reconnection is not possible. In this case, the surgeon creates a new path for waste to leave your body. The surgeon makes an opening (stoma) in the wall of the abdomen, connects the upper end of the intestine to the stoma, and closes the other end. The operation to create the stoma is called a colostomy. A flat bag fits over the stoma to collect waste, and a special adhesive holds it in place.

For most people, the stoma is temporary. It is needed only until the colon or rectum heals from surgery. After healing takes place, the surgeon reconnects the parts of the intestine and closes the stoma. Some people, especially those with a tumor in the lower rectum, need a permanent stoma.

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and can affect cancer cells all over the body. The side affects of chemotherapy depend mainly on the specific drugs and dosage. Some people with colorectal cancer are treated with surgery and chemotherapy.

Radiation Oncology
Radiation therapy is used to treat cancer, as well as offer relief from some of the symptoms of cancer. It may be used alone or in combination with surgery or chemotherapy. Also called radiotherapy, radiation oncology uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells, affecting cells only in the treated area. Radiation therapy may also be used before or after surgery to shrink the tumor or to kill cancer cells that may have remained in the area. 

Biological Therapy
Some people with colorectal cancer that has spread receive a monoclonal antibody, a type of biological therapy. The monoclonal antibodies bind to colorectal cancer cells. They interfere with cancer cell growth and the spread of cancer. People receive monoclonal antibodies intravenously at the doctor's office, hospital or clinic. Some people receive chemotherapy at the same time.

SIR-Spheres®: Selective Internal Radiation Sphere Therapy
For primary colon cancer that has spread to the liver, physicians can offer a new alternative. Sentara Norfolk General Hospital was the first in the area to begin using Selective Internal Radiation (SIR) Spheres Therapy.

Imagine millions of microscopic radioactive resin beads (spheres) traveling through the blood-stream with one mission: to target and destroy advanced liver metastases. In this non-surgical, outpatient therapy, a catheter is placed in the femoral artery of the upper thigh and threaded through the hepatic artery. Through this catheter the microscopic spheres are delivered directly to the tumor where they become trapped.

For about two weeks, the injected spheres radiate the tumor, destroying the cancerous cells from the inside. SIR-Spheres® can safely deliver many times more radiation than conventional techniques. While SIR-Spheres® therapy is not considered a cure, it can extend survival, sometimes by years, and improve patients’ quality of life. In some cases, it can also shrink the liver tumors enough to allow for surgical removal. Learn more about SIR-Spheres®.


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