There are three main types of treatment for bowel cancer – surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Depending on the stage and location of your cancer, you will usually receive one, or a combination of these treatments. People with bowel cancer can also receive monoclonal antibody treatments if the bowel cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Surgery is performed to remove the segment of the large intestine, which contains the cancer. At the same time the surgeon removes 10 to 20 lymph glands, which lie close to the cancer in order to examine these under the microscope and determine whether the cancer has started to spread beyond the bowel. Most bowel cancers can be removed without the need for a permanent colostomy bag but if the cancer is low in the rectum a colostomy may be required.
Chemotherapy, or drug treatment for cancer, is commonly recommended following surgery if the cancer has spread to the adjacent lymph glands. Spread to the lymph glands indicates that there is also a possibility that the cancer may a have spread through the blood system to other parts of the body and chemotherapy is given to help to kill any small but invisible areas of remaining cancer. If areas of bowel cancer are visible outside the bowel on x-rays or scans [bowel cancer secondaries or metastases] this is a more serious situation and chemotherapy or monoclonal antibody therapy are used to control the cancer rather than cure.
If areas of bowel cancer are visible outside the bowel on x-rays or scans [bowel cancer secondaries or metastases] this is a more serious situation and chemotherapy or monoclonal antibodytherapy are used to control the cancer rather than cure. Not all of the effective systemic therapies are funded by PHARMAC or by insurance companies, often due to their cost. You can ask your Oncologist whether these treatments may have any additional benefit in your personal situation.
Radiotherapy is a powerful X-ray beam, which can also be used to control bowel cancer secondaries and relieve symptoms. However, radiotherapy is also used as part of the initial, curative treatment for rectal cancer. Cancers in the rectum can spread in small quantities to the walls of the pelvis and radiotherapy is given to the pelvic area to kill any areas of cancer that have spread to the pelvis.
There are a combination of treatments given to treat bowel cancer, depending on where the cancer is in your body. The table below is a summary of what they might be, according to your own individual diagnosis.
Requesting a Second Opinion
You may wish to have your doctor’s proposed course of action confirmed by another consultant or to explore the possibility of alternative treatments. Most doctors are willing to refer you for a second opinion; however they will be honest if they do not feel you will gain anything from seeing another consultant. It is important that you recognise that this process may take time and may delay starting your treatment. Alternatively, a second opinion may be of great value.