How Effective is Chemotherapy for Colon Cancer?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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The effectiveness of chemotherapy for colon cancer is dependent on a number of factors including the stage of the cancer, the type of chemotherapy, whether additional therapies are used, and the patient's general level of health. Generally, chemotherapy extends survival for patients with colon cancer and in some cases can be curative in nature. Because approaches to cancer treatment are constantly changing, it is very important to discuss all options with an oncologist before committing to a specific form of colon cancer treatment.

Colon cancer in stages zero and one is generally treated with surgery alone, to remove the growth in the colon. The growth will be biopsied and the patient will be monitored for signs of recurrence. In patients with colon cancer diagnosed in stage two, three, or four, meaning that the cancer is invasive and spreading, chemotherapy is usually recommended in addition to surgery. Radiation may also be considered for later stage cancers.

Chemotherapy for colon cancer is intended to kill the cancer cells so they cannot continue to reproduce. There are a number of treatment regimens available. The best treatment depends on the stage of the cancer and genetic testing performed on the growth. Some cancers have receptors for particular chemicals and are more sensitive to certain drugs than others. When evaluating a patient with colon cancer, an oncologist should be able to provide an approximate projection of survival without treatment to compare with projections for survival with various treatment options.


The earlier a patient receives chemotherapy for colon cancer, the better. Early treatment makes it easier to stop the cancer before it causes long term damage, and if the patient does not respond to a regimen, there will be time to try a different drug. Patients receiving chemotherapy for colon cancer must also be evaluated for side effects. For some patients, severe side effects involved with treatment of end stage cancer in exchange for a few more weeks or months may not be viewed as an acceptable trade off.

Every cancer responds to treatment differently. When asking an oncologist about treatment options and the prognosis with different options, patients should be aware that only estimates can be provided. While evaluating chemotherapy for colon cancer, some options to consider include the length of a drug regimen, where the drugs are administered, what options are available if the first line of treatment is not effective, and whether other forms of treatment like radiation will be needed as well.

The bottom line with chemotherapy for colon cancer is that when it is recommended, it is usually because the chemotherapy is an effective treatment option, and the patient's survival will be extended.


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