Chemotherapy for rectal cancer

Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is 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 are having cancer removed from the liver or lungs), to shrink the cancer and reduce the risk of it coming back
  • as the main treatment (if it 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:

  • FOLFOX (folinic acid, fluorouracil and oxaliplatin)
  • FOLFIRI (folinic acid, fluorouracil and irinotecan)
  • CAPOX (XELOX) (capecitabine and oxaliplatin).

Back to Chemotherapy explained

When is chemotherapy used?

Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells in the body. Your doctor will explain if chemotherapy is advised for you.

How do chemotherapy drugs work?

Chemotherapy drugs work by stopping cancer cells reproducing. The drugs can also affect healthy cells, causing side effects.