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Common Drug Treatments for Colorectal Cancer: An Overview

Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on February 10, 2023

Colorectal cancer (also known as bowel cancer, colon cancer, or rectal cancer) is a type of cancer that affects the large intestine (colon) and/or rectum. It is usually diagnosed in older adults, although people of any age can develop it. Symptoms of colorectal cancer may include diarrhea or constipation, blood in the stool, abdominal pain, general fatigue or tiredness, and unexplained sudden weight loss. 


Colorectal cancer can be treated through several different methods. Treatment options include chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. If you have colorectal cancer and decide to undergo chemotherapy, there are a number of different FDA-approved drugs that your doctor may recommend:


Capecitabine (Xeloda)


Capecitabine (sold under the brand name Xeloda) is a type of chemotherapy treatment called an anti-metabolite that comes in the form of a pill. It is taken over the course of a few “cycles,” each one lasting three weeks or so. One example of a cycle is three weeks with treatment, then a week with no treatment, then another three weeks with treatment. Your treatment cycle depends on various factors and will be determined by you and your doctor.


Fluorouracil (5-FU)


Fluorouracil (also known as 5-FU) is another anti-metabolite drug used in chemotherapy. Fluorouracil is not taken via pill but rather injected into the bloodstream through a plastic tube. The treatment is continuously administered using a pump, attached to your body by a healthcare professional. Patients with colorectal cancer use the pump over the course of a few days and then return to the hospital to get it replaced. 


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Colon Cancer - Medications

Colon Cancer - Medications

Irinotecan (Campto/Camptosar)


Irinotecan (sold under the brand names Campto or Camptosar) is another chemotherapy drug used to treat colorectal cancer. The drug is introduced into the body intravenously (through a vein) using a drip that lasts between 30 to 90 minutes. Irinotecan is taken every two to three weeks, either on its own or in conjunction with other chemotherapy drugs. 


Oxaliplatin (Eloxatin)


Oxaliplatin (sold under the brand name Eloxatin) is a chemotherapy drug taken in treatment cycles of two to three weeks and administered using a number of methods. Routes of administration may include intravenous drip (which takes between 2 to 6 hours), cannula (a thin tube put into the arm that is inserted every time you receive treatment), and central line (a long tube put into the chest, which stays in your chest throughout the course of your chemotherapy treatment.)


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Colon Cancer - Types of Chemotherapy

Colon Cancer - Types of Chemotherapy

Trifluridine and tipiracil (Lonsurf)


Trifluridine and tipiracil (two different drugs contained in one pill sold under the brand name Lonsurf) are used in chemotherapy treatment. Lonsurf is taken via tablet twice a day and treatment is done in cycles of four weeks. Your doctor will help you understand how and when to take Lonsurf and will create a cycle treatment plan for you to adhere to. 


All of the drugs mentioned above are approved by the FDA and have shown to be effective in treating colorectal cancer. If you’re taking one of the aforementioned drugs and are not seeing results or are experiencing side effects, talk to your oncologist and see if switching treatment plans might benefit you.


Written by Natan Rosenfeld

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