Chemotherapy for Colon Cancer

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Medical oncologist Andrew Epstein

Medical oncologist Andrew Epstein focuses on improving care for our patients with colorectal cancer by integrating cancer treatment and palliative medicine.

Colon cancer surgery can cure many people. However, some people develop undetectable microscopic tumor cells that eventually can become new tumors. These cells could spread to other parts of your body (metastasize).

Because of this, your care team may use adjuvant chemotherapy (chemotherapy given after primary therapy) to treat these microscopic cells. Chemotherapy is a drug or combination of drugs that kills cancer cells wherever they are in the body. For example, if you have colon cancer that has spread to your lymph nodes, chemotherapy is a standard treatment.

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At Memorial Sloan Kettering, our medical oncologists who specialize in chemotherapy for colorectal cancer can customize an appropriate plan for you. We understand how different drugs work, alone or in combination. Our goal is to find the strongest possible treatment while minimizing side effects.

Chemotherapy for Metastatic Colon Cancer

Some standard chemotherapy drugs aren’t effective in colon tumors that have certain mutations. For people with cancer that has spread beyond the colon (metastatic colon cancer), we analyze the tumors to look for specific genetic mutations. Knowing about a tumor’s mutations can help determine which chemotherapy drugs will be most effective and minimize side effects.

If you have colon cancer that has spread to other organs, surgery to remove the tumor first may not be the best treatment option. As long as the tumor isn’t causing problems in your bowel, chemotherapy may be a better choice.

Having chemotherapy first has two potential benefits:

  • You may be able to avoid the risk of surgical complications.
  • You can start cancer treatment throughout your entire body without delay.