Colon cancer surgery can cure many patients. Some patients, however, develop undetectable microscopic tumor cells that eventually can become new tumors.
Because of this, your team may use adjuvant chemotherapy (chemotherapy given after primary therapy) to treat these microscopic cells. Chemotherapy is a drug or combination of drugs that kill cancer cells wherever they are in your body. For example, if you have colon cancer that has spread to your lymph nodes, chemotherapy is a standard treatment.
Medical oncologists who specialize in chemotherapy for colorectal cancer understand how different drugs work, alone or in combination, and can customize an appropriate plan for you. The goal is to find the strongest possible treatment while minimizing possible side effects.
Some standard chemotherapy drugs aren’t effective in colon tumors carrying certain mutations. At MSK, patients with metastatic disease will have their tumor tissue analyzed by a pathologist to look for specific genetic mutations. Knowing which mutations are there can help your medical oncologist determine which chemotherapy drugs will be most effective and minimize side effects.
For example, if you have certain mutations in the KRAS, NRAS, or BRAF genes, the drugs panitumumab and cetuximab aren’t good treatment options. Armed with this information, your team would recommend a different drug therapy.
If you have colon cancer that has metastasized to other organs, surgery to remove the tumor may not be the best treatment option. As long as the tumor isn’t causing problems in your bowels, chemotherapy may be a better choice.
Moving straight to chemotherapy 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.