Why do I need chemotherapy after my bowel resection?

Carolyn Vachani, MSN, RN, AOCN
Last Modified: June 30, 2002


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
Why do I need chemotherapy after my bowel resection?  


Carolyn Vachani, MSN, RN, AOCN, OncoLink's Clinical Trials Coordinator, responds:

The answer to this question is dependent on the stage of the cancer. In stage II or III colon cancer, chemotherapy after surgery, also called adjuvant therapy, is given in an effort to prevent the cancer from returning (or recurring). Forty percent of patients that have their entire tumor removed surgically will ultimately develop a recurrence. Chemotherapy can significantly decrease the chance of the cancer returning.

In stage IV colon cancer, chemotherapy after surgery is given to extend life or improve quality of life by alleviating symptoms caused by the tumor. Chemotherapy in these cases is not considered to cure a patient. Despite the fact that the primary tumor (the tumor in the colon) may have been removed by the surgeon, it has been determined that the cancer has spread to other organs. In a very small number of cases, tumors in the liver or lung may be able to be surgically removed, improving the patient's chance for survival. Advances in chemotherapy have allowed patients with stage IV colon cancer to survive longer than ever before.