Colorectal Cancer

What is it?
Colon and rectal cancers are found in the large intestine (the lowerpart of the digestive tract).  The cancers can develop in a number of areas such as the large intestine next to the small intestine (caecum), in the main part of the intestine (colon) or in the lowest part of the large intestine that leads to the anus (rectum).  They are all referred to as colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer symptoms vary and in some cases there may not be any early symptoms. Some of the more common symptoms which can occur are:

  • A change in bowel habit, such as persistent diarrhoea, constipation, or alternating between diarrhoea and constipation
  • Changes in stool consistency or narrowing of the stool that lasts more than a few days
  • Feeling that the bowel has not been emptied properly
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stools without any pain
  • Loss of appetite or sudden weight loss
  • Cramping or steady abdominal pain
  • Weakness and fatigue (usually due to anaemia )

The above symptoms could occur due to other illnesses such as food poisoning or irritable bowel syndrome. However, should these symptoms persist for more than a few days, it's important to see your doctor.


Treatment options available
Colorectal cancer is usually treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or with a combination of these treatments.

If the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body then surgery is used to remove the cancer. This is often the case with early colorectal cancer.

If the cancer has spread but only in a limited area, surgery can also be attempted. Surgery is also an option if the cancer is causing a blockage (obstruction). This can help to relieve the symptoms.


  • Radiotherapy is used to treat rectal cancer but is rarely used to treat colon cancer
  • Radiotherapy can be given before or after surgery for rectal cancer. This is known as ' adjuvant ' radiotherapy, and can kill any small cancer cells that may have been left behind during surgery
  • Sometimes, radiotherapy is used before surgery on the rectum to reduce the size of the tumour so that it is easier to remove


In early stage colon cancer, chemotherapy can be given after surgery to kill any cancer cells that may have spread to other parts of the body but are too small to be detected. This is known as adjuvant therapy.

If the colorectal cancer has spread to other parts of the body it is known as advanced or metastatic colorectal cancer. Chemotherapy is normally given to people with metastatic stage of cancer to reduce their symptoms, improve their quality of life and extend survival for as long as possible.

How is chemotherapy administered?
Chemotherapy can be given in an oral form (tablet) or intravenously (IV/drip).

Intravenous Therapy (IV)
IV administred chemotherapy is a method of administering cancer treatment by injection into a vein.

Oral Chemotherapy
There are many types of oral chemotherapy drugs available for treatment of different types of cancer. Oral chemotherapy is taken in tablet or capsule form, either by itself or in a combination with another form of chemotherapy. 

Oral chemotherapy allows patients to have their treatment at home. Although you will be able to take your oral chemotherapy treatment at home, you will still need to see your doctor regularly so that your progress can be monitored.

Oral chemotherapy vs Intravenous therapy

Two studies have found that more than eight out of ten people with cancer prefer to receive their treatment in the form of a pill ( oral chemotherapy ) rather than intravenously. The main reason given for this preference was the convenience of taking the treatment at home. Oral chemotherapy allows patients more time to spend with friends and family, and means they spend less time in hospital. In one study, nine out of ten patients said they would prefer oral chemotherapy, if given the choice.

A second study found that 84 per cent of patients who had received both oral and intravenous chemotherapy preferred their treatment in the form of a pill. These two studies found that there is a high demand for effective oral chemotherapy, and that this type of therapy would significantly improve the quality of life of people with cancer.

Non-chemotherapy treatments

New treatments for cancer are constantly being developed. The most recent advanced treatment for colorectal cancer is one which slows down the growth of blood vessels that supply nutrients and oxygen to cancerous tissue.

Name Start Date End Date Venue Contact E-Mail URL/Link
Colorectal Health Awareness Month Mar 1, 2009 Mar 31, 2009   CANSA
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