Chemoradiation for rectal cancer

Chemoradiation is a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It is also sometimes called chemoradiotherapy.

Chemoradiation may be given:

  • before surgery, to help shrink the cancer and reduce the risk of cancer coming back in or around the rectum
  • after surgery, to reduce the risk of cancer coming back in or around the rectum.

Chemotherapy drugs make cancer cells more sensitive to radiotherapy. The chemotherapy drugs most commonly used are fluorouracil (5FU) and capecitabine.

Fluorouracil (5FU) may be given into a vein as an injection with folinic acid, or as an infusion (drip). It is usually given shortly before the radiotherapy. Your cancer doctor or nurse will tell you which days you will have fluorouracil.

Capecitabine is taken as tablets. You usually take them every day throughout the course of your radiotherapy.

Having chemotherapy and radiotherapy together can make the side effects of each treatment worse. Your doctor or specialist nurse can give you more information about chemoradiation and the possible side effects of this treatment.