Treatment Options

Different treatment options are available to patients depending on the size, location and stage of colorectal cancer.

Local therapies consist of surgery, radiation therapy and interventional radiology. These therapies can remove or destroy cancer in a particular area such as the colon, rectum, liver, lungs, peritoneum etc. without affecting other parts of the body.

Systemic therapies consist of chemotherapy and biological therapy whereby drugs enter the bloodstream and destroy or control cancer throughout the body.

Understanding your options in managing the disease is important which is why Colorectal Cancer Canada has developed a comprehensive guide to understanding colorectal cancer treatments. The treatments have been organized according to the following sections:

  • Surgical Therapies
  • Drug Therapies
  • Radiation Therapies
  • Interventional Radiology
  • Immunotherapy

The sections provide in depth information on therapies for all stages of colorectal cancer according to

  • Anatomical site
  • Treatment modality
  • Stage of disease

From Chemotherapeutic Agents to Biosimilars

Learn the difference between chemotherapeutic agents, small molecules, biologics, and biosimilars, all of which play a role in the management of colorectal cancer. They all kill colorectal cancer cells but how do they differ and at what point are they administered in a patient’s treatment plan?

Did You Know…

  1. Chemotherapeutic drugs affect "younger" tumors more effectively because mechanisms regulating cell growth are usually still preserved.
  2. Newer anticancer drugs act directly against abnormal proteins in cancer cells; this is termed targeted therapy and the drugs which commonly target cancer cells are called biologics.

Side Effects

The treatment of colorectal cancer may consist of one or a combination of the following: chemotherapy, biological or targeted therapy, radiation therapy, or surgery. These therapies are designed to kill or eradicate cancer cells throughout the body. Not surprisingly, these therapies may also damage normal, healthy cells that are not affected by the cancer which results in an adverse side effect of the treatment.

When cancer therapies cannot distinguish between cancer cells and normal, healthy cells, the result is an unwanted side effect.

Many side effects of treatment are normal and pose no danger to you other than a minor inconvenience, such as changes in fingernail growth. What is important to remember is that most side effects are merely temporary and will subside once the body adjusts to therapy or when therapy is completed.

Do not become discouraged about the side effects induced from colorectal cancer therapies, for remedies are readily available and symptoms short-lived.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies designed to evaluate new cancer treatment options. They test the safety and effectiveness of treatments. Clinical trials evaluate:

  • A new anti-cancer drug
  • Unique approaches to surgery and radiation therapy
  • And new combinations of treatments

A drug being studied in a clinical trial is called an investigational drug. There are 4 phases to clinical trials and they answer the following questions:

  • Phase I: Is the treatment safe?
  • Phase II: Does the therapy work?
  • Phase III: Is the therapy better than what is currently available?
  • Phase IV: What else do we need to know?

It is important to note that all new cancer drugs that are currently available for the treatment of colorectal cancer, were only once available through clinical trials.

While the decision to enroll in a clinical trial of a novel cancer treatment is ultimately very personal, a clear understanding of the nature of clinical trials can help patients make the choice that is appropriate for them.

Did You Know…

  1. A clinical trial is performed only when there is good reason to believe that the treatment being studied may be better than the one currently used?
  2. All new cancer drugs currently available for the treatment of colorectal cancer were once only available through clinical trials?

To find a cancer trial in Canada visit

Treatment Updates

Research has shown that patient education lowers uncertainty and the stress that comes with not knowing what to expect as a patient begins cancer treatment. Uncertainty is a known stressor that interferes with health, therefore, reducing it will improve the odds of successful cancer therapy. Preparation may also equip cancer patients and their caregivers with knowledge about good coping strategies, including how to cope with the fatigue that comes with treatment through adjusting work load and family life.

This is why Colorectal Cancer provides information on treatment updates in our comprehensive Library. These documents contain colorectal cancer treatment and clinical research updates across the continuum of care.

Most colorectal cancer treatment modalities are represented and up to date information is provided in a user-friendly language. The documents furnish information relating to:

  • Drugs & Systemic Therapies
  • Surgical Therapies
  • Radiation Therapies
  • Interventional Therapies
  • Screening
  • Psychosocial Oncology
  • Other
  • Nutrition & Healthy Lifestyle

To access up to date information on colorectal cancer, visit our library and select the Treatment Updates category.

Naturopathic Medicine and Colorectal Cancer

Prevention, especially in those who are at a higher risk for colorectal cancer, is the first and foremost important step in the fight against cancer. While there are many risk factors for colorectal cancer that cannot be modified such as age, family history of colorectal cancer, race, ethnicity and inherited syndromes, there are many things that can be done to help prevent the occurrence of cancer. Some of these include a healthy diet, regular physical activity, smoking cessation and limiting alcohol consumption.

Naturopathic medicine is an important part of Colorectal Cancer Care and offers therapies that:

  1. Reduce the risk of initially developing colorectal cancer
  2. Are supportive during chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery and help to improve both the tolerance and success of conventional therapies
  3. Help prevent recurrence once cancer has been successfully treated.


Surgical removal of a malignant tumor is the most common treatment for colorectal cancer. The diseased portion of the colon and/or rectum is removed, and in most cases, the healthy portions are reattached (often referred to as anastomosis). Sometimes, that is not possible because of the extent of the disease or its location. In this case, a surgical opening is made through the abdomen to provide a new pathway for waste elimination. This is what is commonly referred to as an ostomy. The ostomy can be permanent, when an organ must be removed, or it can be temporary, when the organ needs time to heal.

For colorectal cancer, there are two types of ostomy:

  • Ileostomy (1) - the bottom of the small intestine (ileum) is attached to the stoma (opening). This bypasses the colon, rectum and anus.
  • Colostomy (2) - the left side of the colon is attached to the stoma. This bypasses the rectum and the anus.

A stoma (means opening) is a portion of your small or large intestine that has been brought through the surface of the abdomen (belly) which provides an alternative path for fecal waste to leave the body. A surgeon forms a stoma by bringing out a piece of bowel onto the abdomen and turns it back like a turtleneck and then sutures it to the abdominal wall. An ostomy flange and pouch with an adhesive backing is then attached over the stoma and worn on the abdomen to collect waste. It will require emptying throughout the day and completely changed at least once a week.

Did You Know…

  1. An ostomy need not be permanent. It may be reversed 9 months after your colorectal surgery. Speak with your colorectal surgical oncologist.
  2. People living with a permanent ostomy can lead a perfectly fulfilling and enriching life!

Since a percentage of the colorectal cancer population may require an ostomy, it is with this in mind that Colorectal Cancer Canada has developed a guide to helping patients understand the different types of ostomies and the care required to properly manage them.

This guide will help you better understand ostomies – what they are, why they are required, how they affect the normal digestive process, and what changes they can bring to a person’s life.