Treatment of bowel cancer

The main treatments for bowel cancer are:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Biological therapy
  • Radiotherapy


Surgery is the most common treatment for bowel cancer. Surgery aims to remove the part of the bowel containing the tumour. There are different types of surgery like open surgery or keyhole surgery.

For more information, please see Understanding cancer of the colon and rectum (bowel) booklet (pdf 2.01 MB) or speak to a specialist nurse on our helpline.


Chemotherapy uses drugs to cure or control your cancer. It can be used alone to treat bowel cancer. It can also be given before surgery (neo-adjuvant therapy) or after surgery (adjuvant therapy) .

Some common chemotherapy drugs used in bowel cancer are:

Please see our Understanding Chemotherapy booklet.For more about drugs see our section on drug therapies.

Biological therapy

Biological therapies use substances that occur naturally in the body to destroy cancer cells. The main types of biological therapies used in bowel cancer are Monoclonal antibodies, cancer growth inhibitors and Angiogenesis inhibitors.

For more information on biological therapies, please see our treatment section

Some common drugs used are:


Radiotherapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells in your bowel. Radiotherapy is mainly used in cancer of the rectum. It can be given before surgery (neo-adjuvant therapy) and also after surgery (adjuvant therapy). Please see our Understanding Radiotherapy booklet.

How is advanced bowel cancer treated ?

Advanced bowel cancer is when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Advanced bowel cancer is also called metastatic colorectal cancer (MCRC.) It may be possible to keep the cancer under control by surgery, chemotherapy or biological therapy. It is unlikely the cancer will be cured. Treatment can help to shrink the cancer to improve your symptoms. This is called palliative treatment.

There are several different types of biological therapy treatments available for MCRC. Before giving you a biological therapy, your doctor will do a biomarker test. This means looking at the genes in your cancer to see if your cancer will respond to certain biological therapies.  Several biomarkers have been found in MRCR, an example of this is the RAS biomarker. For more information, see these videos:

Learn more about treatments

Call our Cancer Nurseline

Freephone 1800 200 700 and speak to one of our cancer nurses for confidential advice, support and information. It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 6pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm.

Date Last Revised: 
Friday, July 10, 2015