Chemotherapy for Colorectal Cancer

Doctors at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center manage colorectal cancer with chemotherapy, a group of medications that interfere with the function of cancer cells, leading to their death or the slowing of their growth.

The use of chemotherapy in colorectal cancer depends on the extent of the cancer and its molecular characteristics. Doctors may recommend chemotherapy after surgery for colon or rectal cancer. This approach is called adjuvant chemotherapy and helps reduce the risk of the cancer returning after surgery.

Chemotherapy is sometimes given in conjunction with radiation therapy. This approach is called chemoradiation. Doctors may use chemoradiation to help shrink rectal tumors before surgery, an approach called neoadjuvant chemoradiation. Chemoradiation may also be used after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.

For advanced colon cancer that has spread throughout the body, or for people who cannot have surgery due to poor overall health, chemotherapy may be the only treatment used.

Chemotherapy for colorectal cancer may be given through a vein with intravenous (IV) infusion or may be taken by mouth. The duration of treatment varies from person to person, depending on how advanced the cancer is.

Typically, people have IV infusions two days a week, every two weeks, allowing the body to recover in between. This cycle may be repeated for several months. Other chemotherapy medications may be taken by mouth daily for several weeks, followed by treatment breaks.

Some of the most common chemotherapy drugs our doctors prescribe for colorectal cancer include fluorouracil, capecitabine, irinotecan, oxaliplatin, and trifluridine.