Does Chemotherapy Lower the Risk of Recurrence of Colorectal Cancer?

How chemotherapy can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer recurrence.

recurrence of colorectal cancerSometimes tiny tumor cells are left inside a patient after a colorectal cancer surgery. These cells can continue to grow and may lead to a recurrence of the disease. Dr. Christopher Lieu talks about how doctors use chemotherapy to lower the risk of recurrence of colorectal cancer in this video.

Undergoing chemotherapy after surgery can kill tumor cells before they have a chance to multiply. This process increases the chances of high risk patients living a healthy, disease-free life after surgery.

Video Transcripts

Dr. Lieu: In situations where we believe that a cancer has been completely removed by surgery, we are hopeful that all the tumor cells have been completely removed out of body. There are times that we know that microscopic tumor cells that can’t be seen by CT scans or even by a surgeon in the operating room still persist in the body after a surgical resection.

We know this is the case because while a majority of patients that have their cancer completely removed do very well without any recurrence of colorectal cancer. There are handful of patients that will have their cancer come back and that is because that there may be microscopic cells that could not be seen by scanned or by a surgeon that are left behind after the surgery and will continue to grow. And its in these situations when we see the cancer come back typically within two to five years.

By offering or getting chemotherapy after the surgery, we are hoping to provide medicine that can kill these microscopic tumor cells and we typically offer chemotherapy to patients that we believe have high risk colorectal cancer. What I mean by high risk is that there are features of the colorectal cancer that we see under a microscope, that make us concerned that the cancer could come back at a later time.

The most common of these situations being when the lymph nodes are involved with cancer, and I usually described the lymph nodes as the roads that cancer uses to move to other organs of the body and for colorectal cancer that is most commonly the liver in the lungs. So, by treating with chemotherapy, our hope is that we are killing these microscopic tumor cells and we know that this is effective because when we study patients with high risk colorectal cancer and we compare patients that have received chemotherapy, compared to patients that do not receive chemotherapy is the patients that do receive chemotherapy that live longer.

Christopher Lieu
Dr. Lieu joined the University of Colorado School of Medicine faculty as an Assistant Professor in July 2011. He trained in internal medicine at the University of Colorado, where he also served as a Chief Medical Resident. He completed his fellowship training in medical oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and served as the Chief Medical Oncology Fellow in 2010.


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