Chemotherapy is the administration of cancer-fighting medication (cytotoxic drugs) to destroy cancer cells.

  • After surgery to lower the chances of the cancer returning.
  • Before the surgery, if you are going to have a tumor of the liver or the lung removed, it can be used to reduce the size of the cancer and prevent the cancer from coming back.
  • As the main treatment for cancer that has spread to other parts of the body and to try to control it for as long as possible.

The most widely used drugs to treat colorectal cancer are:

  • fluorouracil (5FU), a drug often given with folinic acid (leucovorin)
  • capecitabine
  • oxaliplatin
  • irinotecan
  • tegafur-uracil

Often, two or more chemotherapy drugs are given in combination.

The three most widely used combinations are:

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

How is the chemotherapy administered?

Chemotherapy is usually given in the day hospital through an injection in a vein (intravenous) through:

  • A fine, thin tube inserted into one of the veins in your hand or arm.
  • A PICC line: a thin plastic tube placed in a vein on the interior part of your arm.
  • A central line: a plastic tube placed in a vein in your chest.

Sometimes, chemotherapy is given in tablet form.

Sometimes, chemotherapy can be given continuously through a small portable pump connected to your line or PICC line. A controlled amount of medication is delivered to the blood stream over a period of time. This means you can take the pump home and spend less time in the hospital.

Chemotherapy is usually given during as part of a treatment session. After each session, you will normally have a period of rest lasting for a few weeks. This lets your body recover from the side effects.

The treatment and rest period make up one treatment cycle. Your specialist will talk to you about how many cycles you are going to have.