Surgery is usually the main treatment for bowel cancer, and may be combined with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or biological treatments, depending on your particular case.
The treatments recommended for you will depend on which part of your bowel is affected and how far the cancer has spread, but surgery is usually the main treatment.
If it's detected early enough, treatment can cure bowel cancer and stop it coming back. Unfortunately, a complete cure is not always possible and there is sometimes a risk that the cancer could recur at a later stage.
In more advanced cases that cannot be removed completely by surgery, a cure is highly unlikely.
However, symptoms can be controlled and the spread of the cancer can be slowed using a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and biological treatments where appropriate.
Your treatment team
If you are diagnosed with bowel cancer, you will be cared for by a multidisciplinary team, which will include a specialist cancer surgeon, an oncologist, a radiologist and a specialist nurse.
When deciding what treatment is best for you, your care team will consider the type and size of the cancer, your general health, whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body, and how aggressive the cancer is.
Want to know more?
- Bowel Cancer Information: treatment
- Bowel Cancer UK: treatment options
- Macmillan: treatment for colon cancer
- Macmillan: treatment for rectal cancer
- National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE): diagnosis and management of colorectal cancer
Biological treatments, including cetuximab, bevacizumab and panitumumab, are a newer type of medication also known as monoclonal antibodies.
Monoclonal antibodies are antibodies that have been genetically engineered in a laboratory. They target special proteins found on the surface of cancer cells, known as EGFR.
As EGFRs help the cancer grow, targeting these proteins can help shrink tumours, and improve the effect and outcome of chemotherapy.
Biological treatments are therefore usually used in combination with chemotherapy in case of metastatic bowel cancer.
Surgery for colon cancer
If colon cancer is at a very early stage, it may be possible to remove just a small piece of the lining of the colon wall, known as local excision. If the cancer spreads into muscles surrounding the colon, it's usually necessary to remove an entire section of your colon, known as a colectomy.
Surgery for rectal cancer
There are a number of different types of operation that can be carried out to treat rectal cancer, depending on how far the cancer has spread. Some operations are entirely through the bottom, with no need for abdominal incisions.
Where a section of the bowel is removed and the remaining bowel joined, the surgeon may sometimes decide to divert your faeces away from the join to allow it to heal.
The faeces are temporarily diverted by bringing a loop of bowel out through the abdominal wall and attaching it to the skin – this is called a stoma. A bag is worn over the stoma to collect the faeces.
Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment, with medicine used to kill cancer cells. It kills the cancer cells by damaging them, so they can't reproduce and spread.
Read more about chemotherapy
In the past, any medication used to treat cancer was regarded as chemotherapy. However, over the last 20 years, new types of medication that work in a different way to chemotherapy have been introduced.
These new types of medication are known as targeted therapies. This is because they're designed to target and disrupt one or more of the biological processes that cancerous cells use to grow and reproduce.
In contrast, chemotherapy medications are designed to have a poisonous effect on cancerous cells.
Radiotherapy is a treatment involving the use of high-energy radiation. It's commonly used to treat cancer. It is also sometimes used to treat benign (non-cancerous) tumours and other conditions, such as thyroid disease and some blood disorders.
Almost half of all people with cancer have radiotherapy as part of their treatment plan.
The content is offered for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.