Colorectal Cancer Treatment: Know The Options You Have
Colorectal or colon cancer is a highly treatable form of cancer with a great chance of cure. According to research, the 5-year relative survival rate of colon cancer can be as high as 90% if detected at an early stage. Therefore, it is vital to undergo regular screenings to allow doctors and patients alike to detect any risks and ensure a smoother and more complete tumour removal.
Once diagnosed with colon cancer, patients should undergo immediate treatment to isolate and prevent the spread of cancer cells. When making treatment plan decisions, it is crucial to understand the options available to make an informed choice and seek effective treatment. Below are summaries of the common types of treatments available for colon cancer.
Surgery is the primary form of treatment for colon cancer and is reported to result in cure in approximately 50% of patients. Depending on the size of the tumour, the types of surgery can range from surgical resection to laparoscopy surgery to colostomy for rectal cancer. The goal of these procedures is to remove the cancer tumour in one piece essentially. In some cases, its surrounding healthy tissue and nearby lymph nodes may also be removed. While general surgeons can perform colon surgery, it is recommended for most patients to consult with surgeons who have additional training and experience in colon surgery.
Generally, pain and tenderness in the area of the operation can be felt as a side effect. In some cases, you may experience constipation or diarrhoea, which usually goes away afterwards.
Chemotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that uses medication to destroy cancer cells and prevent them from growing, dividing and multiplying. A chemotherapy schedule typically consists of a certain number of cycles given over a specific period. Chemotherapy may also be given after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. Some of the common drugs used to treat colon cancer are capecitabine (Xeloda), oxaliplatin (Eloxatin), irinotecan (Camptosar) and trifluridine (Lonsurf).
Side effects of chemotherapy include nausea, vomiting, mouth sores, diarrhoea and neuropathy (tingling or numbness of the feet and hands). Although significant hair loss is known to be a common side effect of chemotherapy, it’s uncommon with many of the drugs used to treat colon cancer.
Targeted therapy is another form of colon cancer treatment that utilises medication. It targets the cancer’s specific tissue environment, genes or proteins that contribute to its growth and survival. This form of treatment blocks the spread of cancer cells and limits damage to healthy cells. It is important to note that not all tumours have the same target. As such, your doctor would run additional tests to identify the best treatment match for each patient.
Targeted therapy for colon cancer comes in various options, including anti-angiogenesis therapy and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) inhibitors. Anti-angiogenesis therapy, which prevents the growth of new harmful blood vessels, helps to “starve” the tumour of the nutrients they need from your blood to grow and spread. On the other hand, EGFR inhibitors slow down or even stop the growth of colon cancer. The expected side effects of these forms of treatment are generally manageable across all patients, old and young. As such, numerous studies have shown that patients can significantly benefit from targeted therapies.
Immunotherapy uses medication to enhance the way a patient’s immune system recognises and destroys cancer cells. This form of treatment is designed to boost the natural defences of the body to combat cancer. It utilises materials made either by the body or in a laboratory to improve or restore the functions of the immune system.
Various types of immunotherapy can cause different side effects. The most common are nausea, fever, muscle and bone pain, rashes, diarrhoea, decreased appetite, and shortness of breath. In some cases, immunotherapy may increase the risk of inflammation in various organs of the body.
As colon cancer develops very slowly and remains asymptomatic in its early stages, most patients experience symptoms only when the tumour has reached a significant size. Hence, it’s recommended to go for regular screenings to detect any precancerous changes early and to keep an eye out for various risk factors. By regularly testing for fecal occult blood and undergoing a colonoscopy, symptoms of colon cancer can be identified, and patients can undergo immediate treatment for positive chances of a full recovery.