Surgery is the most common treatment for colon and rectal cancers. Depending on the stage and location of the tumor, different surgical methods are used.
Local excision: If tumors are small enough, they may be removed with minimally invasive surgery. Tiny incisions are made in the abdomen. A miniature camera and surgical instruments are inserted. The surgeon uses computer imaging to locate and remove the tumor.
Polypectomy: Suspicious or cancerous polyps on the colon wall can easily be removed. A colonoscope is a long tube with a camera in the end. The colonoscope is inserted in the rectum and guided to the area requiring treatment, and a tiny, scissor-like instrument removes the polyp.
Colectomy: Surgeons remove the cancerous portion of the colon, along with a margin of healthy tissue on either side, and then join the colon back together.
This procedure is also called a hemicolectomy or segmental resection.
Resection & colostomy: If the colon cannot be rejoined after removing the cancer, surgeons will perform a colostomy. A stoma (hole) is cut in the abdominal wall and attached to a segment of colon. Bodily waste goes through the stoma into a plastic bag outside the body. Colostomies may be temporary, allowing the bowel to heal before resection. However, about 15 percent of colostomies are permanent.
Radiation therapy may be used to destroy any colon or rectal cancer cells that remain after surgery. Radiation is used most often on locally advanced rectal cancers prior to surgery along with chemotherapy, or those that cannot be treated with surgery. It can also be used to relieve cancer symptoms.
Chemotherapy can be used to shrink rectal tumors before surgery, or to lengthen survival time after surgery. Chemotherapy is generally not effective for advanced or recurring colon cancers.
Researchers are developing new drugs that are designed to seek out and destroy specific types of cancer cells without affecting healthy cells.
New treatments are always being tested in clinical trials and some patients with cancer may want to consider participating in one of these research studies. These studies are meant to help improve current cancer treatments or obtain information on new treatments. Talk to your doctor about the clinical trials that may be right for you.