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Colon Cancer

Radiation vs. Chemo

03/30/2011

Question:

I know that you’re an oncologist, but I have a question about radiation. A friend’s mother was diagnosed with colon cancer, and she had surgery and they recommended a combination of chemo and radiation. I know of someone else who was also diagnosed with colon cancer, but they only had surgery and radiation. My question is, what are some of the factors that determine if someone gets chemo, radiation or both?

Answer:

Hello, I wonder if your friend's mother actually had rectal cancer? The rectum is the end of the colon, just before the anus. Tumors in the rectum are harder to remove surgically because of the narrowness of the pelvis. Radiation therapy shrinks the tumor and allows for a more complete surgical removal. It also may make the difference for a patient in terms of needing a permanent colostomy or not. For patients with stage II or III rectal cancer, it is standard to treat with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation before surgery. Sometimes it is not apparent that a tumor is stage II or III until after it has been removed. In that case, the chemotherapy and radiation would be given after surgery. For colon cancer radiation may be used if the tumor was invading another organ or structure nearby, but in most cases of early stage colon cancer the treatment is surgery alone or surgery followed by chemotherapy.

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Response by:

Smitha S Krishnamurthi, MD Smitha S Krishnamurthi, MD
Assistant Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University