How is bowel cancer treated?

surgery closeup


Surgery aims to remove the part of the bowel containing the tumour. There are different types of surgery like open surgery or keyhole surgery.  Read more about bowel cancer surgery.


Chemotherapy uses drugs that cure or control cancer. It can also reduce the risk of cancer returning. Read more about chemotherapy.

Targeted therapies

These are drugs that target specific proteins and gene changes that help the cancer to grow. You may have blood tests to see if you’re suitable for particular targeted therapies. For example, the RAS gene test will tell your doctors if you’re suitable for certain targeted therapies. Read more about targeted therapies.

External radiotherapy

This uses high energy rays to kill the cancer cells. It can be given before [rectal cancer] surgery to shrink the tumour or after surgery to kill any cancer cells left behind to prevent the cancer coming back. Read more about radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy together (chemoradiation): Radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be given together especially for rectal cancer. Chemotherapy can make the radiotherapy more effective. The side-effects can be worse as you are having 2 treatments together. Read more about coping with side-effects of cancer treatment.

Will I get side-effects?

Most treatments cause some side-effects, but these usually get better after treatment has ended. If you have surgery, an opening (stoma) is sometimes made in your tummy and your poo will pass through this opening into a bag worn outside your body. It's usually temporary but may be permanent, depending on the surgery you have. Read more about stomas and about the different treatments to learn more about possible side-effects.

Your doctor or nurse will discuss any possible side-effects with you before your treatment. Read more about coping with the side-effects of treatment.

Treating cancer that has spread (metastatic) 

Metastatic or secondary bowel cancer means the cancer has spread beyond the bowel.

Remember that not all bowel cancers spread. 

If you have metastatic bowel cancer, your doctor will aim to slow down the growth of the cancer and reduce or relieve any symptoms you have. Treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapies and radiotherapy. Or you may be suitable for a clinical trial. You may also have treatment to manage any symptoms from your cancer. This is called symptom control or palliative care

Read more about metastatic cancer.

For more information

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