Treatment of bowel cancer

The main treatments for bowel cancer are:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Biological therapy
  • Radiotherapy

Surgery

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

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, which you can download from our "Important cancer information booklets" list on the right hand side of this page, for more about chemotherapy. For more about drugs see our section on drug therapies.

Biological therapy

This therapy uses the body's immune system to treat cancer. Some common drugs used are:

Radiotherapy

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, which you can download from our "Important cancer information booklets" list on the right hand side of this page, for more about radiotherapy.

How is advanced bowel cancer treated ?

Advanced cancer is when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. This can include the liver or the lungs. It may be possible to keep the cancer under control by surgery or chemotherapy. It is unlikely the cancer will be cured. Chemotherapy or radiotherapy can help to shrink the cancer to improve your symptoms. This is called palliative treatment.

Learn more about treatments

Call our National Cancer Helpline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm