A member of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Network

Colon Cancer Treatment

Treatment for colon cancer is generally very effective if caught early. Surgery and chemotherapy drugs are the most common treatments, and often surgery is all that's needed.

At Group Health Medical Centers, we keep up with the rapid changes and improvements in colon cancer treatment.

We offer chemotherapy that's easier to tolerate and surgery that is less invasive. We consistently review the latest research findings to make sure our treatments are the most effective. Our cancer teams meet weekly to discuss cases and review new treatments and clinical trials.

Surgery

If the cancer is still just a polyp, a small clump of cells in your colon, your doctor can remove it during a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy. These procedures insert a flexible tube with a small camera into the colon.

Surgeries for cancer that has spread beyond the polyp include:

  • Colectomy. A surgeon will remove the cancer, a small amount of healthy tissue, and some lymph nodes for testing. The surgeon will stitch the healthy ends of the colon together. After healing, the colon will function normally to get rid of body waste.
  • Colostomy. If it isn’t possible to rejoin the ends of the colon, the surgeon will do a colostomy. He or she will join the colon to an opening outside of the abdomen. Body waste then empties directly into a bag that attaches to the opening (stoma) on the outside of the patient’s body.

Sometimes a colostomy is needed just until the colon heals. Then the bag is removed and, in most cases, the colon will function normally. If the colon had to be removed, the colostomy will be permanent.   

Your surgeon will discuss your options with you before your surgery.

Chemotherapy

For colon cancer that has spread beyond the colon, most patients will need chemotherapy, usually after surgery. Your cancer doctor will determine the type of chemotherapy and the number of sessions depending on your stage of colon cancer, age, and any other medical problems you might have.

Reactions to Treatment

Side effects from chemotherapy depend on the specific drug. Some common effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and problems thinking clearly. Chemotherapy can also affect production of your red and white blood cells, increasing your risk of anemia and infection.  

Your doctor, nurse, nutritionist, and oncology pharmacist can let you know ways to manage any side effects.

Contacting Your Care Team at Group Health

As you discuss your treatment and possible side effects with your care team, also talk about what signs and symptoms require medical attention right away. When you experience those symptoms, you should call your care team for help or advice. After clinic hours, you should call our Consulting Nurse Service for help, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Taking Care of Yourself

It might seem like your life is revolving around cancer treatment during this time. But it’s important to take care of your other physical needs and your emotional needs as well.

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