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The health professionals looking after you meet regularly as a team, called a multi-disciplinary team (mdt). They will look at your test results and your general health and talk about which treatments may be suitable for you.

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You will have an appointment with a member of the team to talk about your test results and the benefits and risks of the treatment options.  You may be offered more than one of these treatments. You may have chemotherapy and radiotherapy together (chemoradiation) if there is a high risk of the cancer coming back.

There are also treatments for bowel cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. Making a decision about which treatment to have can be difficult. Your healthcare team will support you and answer your questions. We have suggested some questions you might like to take with you to your appointments. Family and friends can be a great support during and after treatment. If you’d like to chat to others in your situation, you could join an online forum. Macmillan cancer support’s forum covers a large range of topics and beating bowel cancer’s forum includes a board for younger people.

Surgery :

  • Surgery is the most common treatment for bowel cancer. You may have surgery together with radiotherapy or chemotherapy to make the cancer easier to remove or if there is a risk of the cancer coming back.
  • Your healthcare team will help you decide on the best treatment for you. They may not recommend surgery if you are too unfit for the operation or if you have advanced cancer that can’t be removed by surgery.

Radiotherapy :

  • Radiotherapy is a possible treatment for rectal cancer, where there is a risk of the cancer coming back after surgery. It is not usually used to treat bowel cancer. This page tells you how you can find a trial and what things to think about before your consent to take part in a trial. We’ve also suggested some questions you might like to ask.
  • You may have radiotherapy to try to cure your cancer, either alone or together with surgery or chemotherapy (chemoradiation). If your cancer cannot be cured, you may have radiotherapy to relieve your symptoms. This is called palliative radiotherapy.
  • There are two main ways of having radiotherapy – externally and internally.
    Doctors also use radiotherapy to treat bowel cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. There are two specialised types of treatment – stereotactic radiotherapy and selective internal radiotherapy (sirt).

Chemotherapy :

  • Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. You may have chemotherapy to treat bowel cancer, either alone or together with other treatments.
    This page describes how chemotherapy treats bowel cancer and which drugs are available.
  • All treatments carry the risk of side effects, and the most common ones are listed here. During treatment, you will need to use contraception to prevent pregnancy and to protect any sexual partners from the chemotherapy.

Advanced bowel cancer :

  • Advanced bowel (colorectal) cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum that has spread to other parts of the body. You may hear this being called secondary or metastatic cancer.
  • Bowel cancer most commonly spreads to the liver or lungs but it can also spread to other parts of the body. Treatment is usually palliative, which means it relieves symptoms but cannot cure the cancer. Palliative treatments, such as chemotherapy and biological therapies, can keep the cancer under control, improve your quality of life and help you live longer.
  • In some people whose cancer has only spread to either the liver or lungs, surgery and chemotherapy can keep the cancer under control for a long time and could possibly cure it.
  • If you have been diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer, your cancer specialist may offer you biomarker testing to help find out which treatments would work best for you.


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