Colorectal Cancer: Chemotherapy

Pictured: Andrea Cercek & Joseph Bacani Medical oncologist Andrea Cercek (left) and registered nurse Joseph Bacani provide chemotherapy to patients with colorectal cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Following surgery for colon cancer, many patients will be cancer-free. However, in some patients, microscopic tumor cells that were not detectable before or during surgery remain in the body and will eventually grow into new tumors.

Following surgery, your oncologist may prescribe adjuvant chemotherapy (chemotherapy given in addition to primary therapy) to target the remaining tumor cells. Chemotherapy is a drug or combination of drugs that kill cancer cells wherever they are in the body. Patients whose cancer has spread from the colon to the lymph nodes now routinely receive chemotherapy.

Memorial Sloan Kettering’s colorectal disease management team includes medical oncologists who specialize in chemotherapy for colorectal cancer. Our physicians understand the subtleties of chemotherapy regimens and personalize your treatment, optimizing its strength while minimizing side effects as much as possible.

Personalized Medicine for Colon Cancer

During your diagnosis and staging, a pathologist will analyze your biopsy samples to look for specific genetic mutations in the tumor. Knowing which mutations are present in (or absent from) your tumor can help determine which chemotherapy drugs will be most effective for you.

It is now known that some standard chemotherapy drugs are not effective in colon tumors carrying certain mutations. For example, colon cancer patients with mutations in the KRAS gene, which encodes a cell-signaling protein, do not respond to the chemotherapy drugs panitumumab and cetuximab. Consequently, patients with KRAS mutations are treated with other chemotherapies.

If genetic tests indicate that your tumor has specific mutations, you may be eligible to participate in a clinical trial of a new, experimental treatment approach. Speak with your physician to find out if a clinical trial might be an option for you.