Bowel cancer treatment

Treatment for bowel cancer will depend on the type of bowel cancer you have. This is because colon cancer and rectal cancer are treated differently.

Your medical team will recommend treatment based on:

  • what will give you the best outcome
  • where the cancer is in the bowel
  • whether and how the cancer has spread
  • your general health
  • your preferences.

The treatment options you are offered will depend on the guidelines for best practice in treating bowel cancer. For some people, the best option may be to join a clinical trial.

Find out more about treatment options for advanced bowel cancer.

Learn more about:

Treatment options by type of bowel cancer

Colon cancer

Surgery is the main treatment for early colon cancer. If cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, you may have chemotherapy after surgery. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy. Radiation therapy is not used for early colon cancer.

Rectal cancer

Surgery is the main option for early rectal cancer. If the cancer has spread beyond the rectal wall and/or into nearby lymph nodes (locally advanced cancer), you will have either radiation therapy or both radiation therapy and chemotherapy (chemoradiotherapy or chemoradiation). This is called neoadjuvant treatment, and the aim is to make the cancer as small as possible before it is removed. This will be followed by surgery and then adjuvant chemotherapy.

Making treatment decisions

Sometimes it is difficult to decide on the type of treatment to have. You may feel that everything is happening too fast. Check with your doctor how soon your treatment should start, and take as much time as you can before making a decision.

You have the right to accept or refuse any treatment offered, to ask for more information, or to get a second opinion. In some cases, you may be able to take part in a clinical trial that is testing new or modified treatments.

To find out more about decision-making steps, consent and second opinions, read our page on Making cancer treatment decisions. 

You may find our Question checklist helpful when thinking about the questions you want to ask your doctor.

This information was last reviewed in February 2017
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