Next to surgery, chemotherapy is an important and successful treatment option in colorectal cancer. The drugs given in a chemo are called cytostatics. These cytostatic agents can kill cancer cells, slow or stop the tumor’s growth or shrink the tumor. However, cytostatics also affect healthy cells, thus side effects can not be avoided.
Whether or not chemotherapy will be given depends on the stage of cancer, as well as on the general condition of the patient. Chemotherapy can be subclassified as adjuvant, neoadjuvant and palliative chemotherapy. Mostly chemo is in an out-patient treatment given by injection into a vein. Sometimes chemo is also
given orally.

  • Adjuvant (supportive) chemotherapy is given after successful surgery with complete resection of the tumor in order to kill any potentially remaining cancer cells. This is necessary because beginning at a certain stage of cancer (e.g. metastases in the lymph nodes) there is a chance for recurrence.

  • Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is given before surgery. It is used to shrink the tumor before surgery and to increase the chance for a complete and easier resection, optimizing the chance for healing and reducing the risk for recurrence.  

  • Palliative chemotherapy may slow or even stop the tumor’s growth, even in advanced cancer. In such advanced stages, chemotherapy often is combined with targeted therapies, using so-called antibodies.

Clinical trials are done to find out about new active substances and new treatment options. You may want to take part in such a clinical trial and should talk to your physician about this option.