Colon Cancer Home > Colon Cancer Chemotherapy

As one of the treatment options for colon cancer, chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells. The drugs either kill the cancer cells or stop them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be administered orally, injected into a vein, or placed directly in an area of the body. Side effects are possible, including hair loss, nausea, vomiting, and lip sores.

How Does Chemotherapy Treat Colon Cancer?

When used to treat colon cancer, chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells by either killing the cells or stopping them from dividing.
When taken orally or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body. This is called systemic chemotherapy. When the drugs are placed directly into the spinal column, an organ, or a body cavity (such as the abdomen), they mainly affect cancer cells in those areas. This is called regional chemotherapy.
Chemoembolization of the hepatic artery may be used for colon cancer treatment when the disease has spread to the liver. This involves blocking the hepatic artery (the main artery that supplies blood to the liver) and injecting anticancer drugs between the blockage and the liver. The arteries then deliver the drugs throughout the liver (only a small amount reaches other parts of the body).
The blockage may be temporary or permanent, depending on what is used to block the artery. The liver continues to receive some blood from the hepatic portal vein, which carries blood from the stomach and intestine.
The way chemotherapy for colon cancer is administered depends on the stage of the disease.

Side Effects Associated With Colon Cancer Chemotherapy

The side effects a person will experience during chemotherapy for colon cancer depend mainly on the specific drugs used and the dose. In general, anticancer drugs affect cells that divide rapidly, especially:
  • Blood cells: These cells fight infection, help the blood to clot, and carry oxygen to all parts of the body. When drugs affect blood cells, patients are more likely to get infections, bruise or bleed easily, or feel very weak and tired.
  • Cells in hair roots: Chemotherapy can cause hair loss. The hair grows back, but sometimes the new hair is somewhat different in color and texture.
  • Cells that line the digestive tract: Chemotherapy can cause poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or mouth and lip sores. Many of these side effects can be controlled with drugs.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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