Treatment at MD Anderson’s Gastrointestinal Center combines the latest technology and research with a multidisciplinary team approach tailored to your unique needs.
Our team of surgeons use minimally invasive techniques, including advanced robotic surgery, that reduce recovery time and maximize quality of life. MD Anderson also offers clinical trials for patients at every disease stage, from newly diagnosed small tumors to patients with stage IV cancer.
Colorectal cancer treatment plans
Colon cancer that has not spread to distant parts of the body is usually treated with surgery. Some patients then receive chemotherapy or, less commonly, radiation therapy to kill any remaining cancer cells.
Rectal cancer that has not spread is usually treated with surgery. These patients may receive chemotherapy or radiation therapy before the procedure. They may also undergo these treatments after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
If colorectal cancer has spread, or metastasized, to distant parts of the body, some patients can still be cured. With new treatments, colorectal cancer that has spread can often be managed like a chronic condition and care is meant to prolong life and preserve quality of life. Treatments for all patients with metastatic colorectal cancer can include surgery, radiation therapy, cryotherapy, microwave ablation, and cancer drugs like chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy.
Surgery is the most common treatment for colorectal cancer, especially if it has not spread. Surgery for colorectal cancer is most successful when done by a surgeon with a great deal of experience in the procedure. At MD Anderson, these procedures are performed by surgeons who specialize in colorectal cancer surgery and are national and international leaders in the field. Surgeons around the country often refer their patients to MD Anderson surgeons for their expertise, especially for the most difficult cases.
Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells, control their growth or relieve disease-related symptoms. Chemotherapy may involve a single drug or a combination of two or more drugs, depending on the type of cancer and how fast it is growing.
Targeted therapy drugs are designed to stop or slow the growth or spread of cancer. This happens on a cellular level. Cancer cells need specific molecules (often in the form of proteins) to survive, multiply and spread. These molecules are usually made by the genes that cause cancer, as well as the cells themselves. Targeted therapies are designed to interfere with, or target, these molecules or the cancer-causing genes that create them.
Radiation therapy uses powerful, focused beams of energy to kill cancer cells. There are several different radiation therapy techniques. Doctors can use these to accurately target a tumor while minimizing damage to healthy tissue.
Radiation therapy is frequently used to treat rectal cancer. For colon cancer, it is used only in very limited situations.
Cryoablation, also known as cryotherapy or cryosurgery, uses cold to kill tumor cells. During the procedure, a special probe is inserted into the tumor and then cooled to temperatures well below freezing. A ball of ice forms at the tip of the probe, freezing and destroying cancerous tissue. Cryotherapy is not as invasive as surgery and can sometimes be performed as an outpatient procedure.
Microwave ablation uses heat to kill cancer cells. During the procedure, a probe delivers microwaves directly to the tumor, heating the tissue until it is destroyed. Microwave ablation is not as invasive as surgery and can sometimes be performed as an outpatient procedure.
The immune system finds and defends the body from infection and disease. Cancer is a complex disease that can evade and outsmart the immune system. Immunotherapy improves the immune system’s ability to eliminate cancer.
There are two types of immunotherapy currently used to treat colon cancer:
- Immune checkpoint inhibitors stop the immune system from turning off before cancer is completely eliminated.
- Monoclonal antibodies attach to specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells or immune cells. They either mark the cancer as a target for the immune system or boost the ability of immune cells to fight the cancer.
Angiogenesis is the process of creating new blood vessels. Some cancerous tumors are very efficient at this process. New blood vessels increase blood supply to a tumor, allowing it to grow rapidly. Angiogenesis inhibitors, or anti-angiogenic therapy, disrupt the creation of these blood vessels.
Clinical trials are a key component of MD Anderson's mission to end cancer. Patients may volunteer to participate in these research studies, which help doctors improve cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
Some clinical trials allow patients to receive experimental medications or treatments, though not all patients are eligible.
Treatment at MD Anderson
Colorectal cancer is treated in our Gastrointestinal Cancer Center.
MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.
Becoming Our Patient
Get information on patient appointments, insurance and billing, and directions to and around MD Anderson.
MD Anderson has licensed social workers to help patients and their loved ones cope with cancer.