Colon Cancer

Treatment for colon cancer may include surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy, or a combination of these approaches.


Surgery is the most common treatment for all stages of colon cancer. Depending on the stage and size of your tumor, your doctor will remove your cancer with one of the following methods:

  • Local excision — This surgical approach is used for very early stage cancers. It involves inserting a tube through the rectum into the colon and removing the cancer, rather than making a cut in the abdominal wall. If the cancer is found in a polyp, the procedure is called a polypectomy.
  • Resection — This approach is used for larger and more advanced cancers and includes a partial colectomy, which involves removing the cancer, a small amount of surrounding healthy tissue and in many cases, nearby lymph nodes to examine for cancer. Afterwards, the doctor will sew the healthy parts of the colon together, during a procedure called an anastomosis.
  • Resection and colostomy — This approach is used when the ends of the colon cannot be sewn back together. In these cases, a colostomy is performed, in which an opening outside of the body for waste to pass through is created, called a stoma. A bag is then placed around the stoma to collect the waste. The colostomy may be temporary, although if the entire lower colon is removed, it is permanent. Our specially trained nurses will help you learn how to manage your colostomy and incorporate it into your lifestyle.
  • Laparoscopic surgery — Also called "keyhole surgery," this innovative approach is being used for some patients with colon cancer. During the procedure, a lighted tube, called a laparoscope, and special instruments are placed inside the body through a few small incisions in the abdomen, rather than one large one. The surgeon is then guided by the laparoscope, which transmits a picture of the intestinal organs on a video monitor and then removes diseased areas of the intestines.

    Laparoscopic surgery for colon cancer offers an alternative and many advantages to standard surgery, including less pain and a shorter recovery period.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of X-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body, or external radiation therapy, or from putting materials that contain radiation through thin plastic tubes, called internal radiation therapy, in the intestine area. Radiation can be used alone or in addition to surgery and chemotherapy.

Radiation therapy may be used after surgery to kill any remaining areas of cancer or before surgery to shrink the tumor. Radiation also can be used to prevent cancer from coming back to the place it started and to relieve symptoms of advanced cancer.


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be taken by pill, or injected into a vein. Chemotherapy may be administered through a tube that is left in the vein while a small pump gives the patient constant treatment over a period of weeks.

Chemotherapy is called a systemic treatment because the drug enters the bloodstream, travels through the body and can kill cancer cells outside the colon.

If the cancer has spread, you may be given chemotherapy directly into an artery to the infected part of the body. If your doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the operation, you may receive chemotherapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Chemotherapy after an operation, when you have no known cancer cells, is called adjuvant chemotherapy.

Biological Treatment

Biological treatment, also called immunotherapy, tries to make your body fight against cancer. It uses materials made by the body or made in a laboratory to boost, direct or restore your natural defenses against disease.

Radiofrequency Ablation

This innovative approach involves using a special probe with tiny electrodes to kill cancer cells. The probe is inserted through an incision in the abdominal wall or directly into the skin, using local anesthesia.


This treatment uses an instrument to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue.

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.