Chemotherapy for Colon Cancer
Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Wednesday, August 25, 2010
By Lili Wang, MD
"WHY DO I NEED chemotherapy if the surgery remove my colon cancer?" This is a common question that colon cancer patients have.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women in the United States. More than 130,000 cases will be diagnosed this year, and, thankfully, more than half will live to tell the tale. For many the prospect of receiving chemotherapy is as scary as the cancer itself.
Why Do I Need Chemotherapy?
After cancer is removed by surgery, patients have many concerns about their future. Often additional steps are needed to kill cells that surgery may have missed, and that can not be detected by x-rays or blood tests. Without chemotherapy, the small cancer cells that surgery may have missed can survive and grow into a new, possibly incurable, tumor. Chemotherapy decreases the chance of cancer returning, and increases the likelihood of cure.
What is Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a term used to describe the drugs that kill rapidly dividing (growing) cancer cells One of the most commonly used chemotherapy combinations for colon cancer is called "FOLFOX." FOLFOX is a combination of three different agents: 5-fluorouracil (five flor oh YER uh sil, also called 5-FU), leucovorin (luke oh VOR in, a vitamin which makes 5-FU more effective) and oxaliplatin (ox all uh PLAT in).
FOLFOX is given by IV in the arm, or through a special port that is placed under the skin in the upper chest. Like most chemotherapies, FOLFOX is given in cycles, usually every two weeks for 12 weeks, or six cycles. Usually FOLFOX is started in an infusion clinic and then completed at home through a pump.
While FOLFOX kills cancer cells, it may also injure healthy cells in our body (mostly normal cells that grow rapidly, like cancer cells) leading to adverse side effects.
Side Effects and How to Manage Them
Side effects of chemotherapy are common, but most are manageable with changes in diet, adjustment of daily routines and/or with medication prescribed by your doctor.
It's important to remember that most side effects are temporary, and that the chemotherapy may save your life.
Dr. Wang practices oncology at the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center. Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.