Treatment of large intestine cancer

Apr 14, 2012 , Danica Deretić

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Treatment of cancer of the large intestine is a complex process, whose individual steps depend especially on the spread of the disease at the time of diagnosis. Treatment of large intestine cancer can be surgical, irradiation, chemotherapy and biotherapy are also employed. The sooner a diagnosis is provided, the larger chance of full recovery.

Treatment of large intestine cancer

A cancer of the large intestine is a disease afflicting both men and women, mostly in developed countries. Men are afflicted up to 9 times more commonly than women. An important prerequisite of a successful treatment is a team approach. This means the cooperation of several specialists. These being the oncologist, the surgeon, the pathologist, the radiotherapist, the radiodiagnostics specialist and if necessary even the clinical psychologist. Before the start of any treatment this team needs to meet and decide the best course of treatment for each specific patient.


Tumor is a growth, created as a result of a changed genetic code in a cell, which starts to grow and reproduce uncontrollably due to this change. A tumor can be either malignant or benign. A malignant tumor grows quickly, spreads into its surroundings and destroys nearby tissue. Its main danger lies in its ability to form so called metastases, secondary cancer nodules spreading from the main tumor. A benign tumor grows slowly, doesn't spread into its surroundings and doesn't form metastases. It can however press on and damage surrounding tissue due to its size and impair its function in this way.

Treatment of benign tumors of the large intestine

Among the benign tumors of the large intestine are so called polyps. These are growths of the mucous tissue, sticking out into the intestine's lumen. They manifest either through visible bleeding from the rectum or through hidden bleeding. This can be uncovered using an occult (hidden) bleeding test. A polyp doesn't endanger one's life, but it still needs to be removed as soon as possible, since it can turn into a malignant tumor. A patient with polyps requires colonoscopy. This is an endoscopic examination, where a tube fitted with a camera is inserted through the anus, allowing the doctor to spot any polyps in the intestine. An advantage of this method is that during the exam the polyps can be instantly and painlessly removed and sent to biopsy. In the case of larger polyps, which cannot be removed in this way, a surgery is necessary. A patient who was diagnosed with polyps needs to be monitored and examined regularly.

Treatment of malignant tumors of the large intestine

A malignant tumor of the large intestine, a colorectal carcinoma, is among the most common oncologic diagnoses. It was proven that men suffer from this disease up to nine times more commonly. Up to 85% of all colorectal carcinomas are the result of intestinal polyps. In the treatment itself, 4 different types of treatment are used and often combined. These are surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and newly biotherapy.

Surgical treatment of tumors of the large intestine

Surgical treatment is the basic method, consisting of surgical removal of the tumor, nearly lymph nodes and if necessary, any secondary cancer nodules in other organs. Depending on the size and localization of the tumor, hemicolectomy is usually performed. This is a surgical removal of a half of the large intestine, based on the placement of the tumor. All nearby lymph nodes are also removed and sent to biopsy. Determining the amount of affliction of these nodes is a key part in determining the patient's prognosis. If secondary cancer nodules are found, these are also removed surgically.

Chemotherapy of tumors in the large intestine

Chemotherapy is a treatment using chemical compounds and is often employed in the treatment of tumors. It was found that up to 60% percents of patients after the surgical removal of a tumor suffer from micrometasthases in the nearby region. Micrometasthases are secondary cancer nodules not visible to the naked eye or x-ray during the surgery. This is why chemotherapy is applied – to destroy any leftover cancerous cells, which would endanger the patient by causing the return of the disease. A disadvantage of chemotherapy is that together with the cancerous cells, it destroys healthy cells as well. Chemotherapy is employed either before the surgery, to shrink the tumor, or after the surgery, to destroy any leftover cancerous cells and prevent the disease from returning.

Radiotherapy of tumors of the large intestine

Radiotherapy is used in carcinomas of the rectum. This is given by the position of the rectum deep withing the lower pelvis. During radiotherapy, radiation is used to destroy any cancer cells. The radiation is emitted from a device and focused on the part of the body afflicted by the tumor. It's applied either before the surgery, with the expected result being the shrinkage of the tumor, or after the surgery.

Biological treatment of tumor of the large intestine

Biological treatment is among the newer types of treatment. Its advantage is that it directly targets the tumor, without damaging healthy tissue. It is however still commonly used together with chemotherapy. Artificially produced compounds are used, capable of seeking out the tumor and destroying it. This treatment is currently expensive and used in patients with secondary cancer nodules. According to several clinical studies, this treatment prolongs the patients' lifespan by up to 5 months.

Side effects of treatment of tumors of the large intestine

Any treatment causes undesirable side effects. In chemo and radiotherapy these effects are a result of afflicting the healthy tissue. Chemotherapy often causes nausea, vomiting, loss of apetite, hair loss, diarrhea, reduces hematopoiesis leading to anemia, increased bleeding and propensity for infections. Diarrhea or reddening of the skin in the afflicted area may occur after radiotherapy. The severeness and amount of side effects are based on the type and length of the treatment and also tend to vary in specific patients. With chemotherapy, these effects disappear after several days, in radiotherapy they disappear after the treatment is concluded, but in both cases they can also persist for longer time.

Prognosis of tumors of the large intestine

Prognosis is the prediction the disease's course and result. In tumors of the large intestine, it is based on careful determining of the disease's stage. A careful preliminary examination, through surgical treatment and the required postoperative care are therefore necessary. Should only the mucous membrane and the submucose layer be afflicted, the disease is treatable in 90% of cases. A worse prognosis can be expected in the case the tumor reaches in deeper layers or if metastases are present. This is why each case needs to be assessed individually.


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