Chemotherapy for rectal cancer
Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. It’s often given in combination with radiotherapy (chemoradiation).
Chemotherapy may be given:
After surgery, to reduce the risk of cancer coming back.
Before surgery, if you’re having cancer removed from the liver or lungs. This is to shrink the cancer and reduce the risk of it coming back.
As the main treatment for cancer that has spread to parts of the body such as the liver or lungs, to try to control it for as long as possible.
The drugs most commonly used to treat bowel cancer are:
Often, two or more chemotherapy drugs are given in combination. The three most commonly used combinations are:
How chemotherapy is given
You usually have chemotherapy as an outpatient. Most drugs are given into a vein (intravenously). Some drugs, such as capecitabine, are taken as capsules or tablets.
You may be given drugs into your vein through one of the following:
A cannula – a short, plastic tube put into a vein in the back of your hand or arm. It’s taken out before you go home.
A PICC line – a long, thin, flexible tube inserted into a vein in the crook of your arm. It stays in until your whole course of chemotherapy is completed.
A central line – a long, thin, flexible tube inserted into a vein in your chest. It stays in until your whole course of chemotherapy is completed.
An implantable port (sometimes called a portacath) – a thin, soft, plastic tube, put into a vein in your chest or arm. It has an opening (port) just under the skin.
Sometimes, chemotherapy is given through a small, portable pump, attached to your PICC or central line. A controlled amount of the drug is given continuously into the bloodstream over a set period of time.
Intravenous chemotherapy is given as a session of treatment over several hours or days. This is followed by a rest period of a few weeks, which allows your body to recover from any side effects. The treatment and rest period make up a cycle of treatment. Your cancer specialist will tell you how many cycles of treatment you will have.
Animations you might find helpful
This animation is about central lines, how they are fitted and what they are for.
This animation is about PICC lines, how they are fitted and what they are for.
Our chemotherapy section discusses the treatment in more detail.