Is Radiation Therapy a Substitute for Chemotherapy in Colon Cancer Treatment?

The roles of chemotherapy and radiation therapy explained.

Radiation Therapy Patients often want to know if radiation is a substitute for chemotherapy in their treatment for colon cancer. Chemotherapy has certain stigmas attached to it that make many patients want to avoid it at all costs. Radiation therapy, despite its risks, it not see as debilitating for day-to-day activities. The truth is, radiation therapy functions alongside chemotherapy in many cases but is generally not a substitute.

In general, chemotherapy is used to control local and distant cancer, distant meaning the cancer has spread to other organs outside of the colon. However, in patients who cannot tolerate chemotherapy, for example if they are bad candidates for chemotherapy due to health reasons or they just cannot tolerate the side effects of chemotherapy, then radiation therapy may function as an alternative. Dr. Murty explains further in the video below:

Murali Murty, MD: I’m often asked by patients whether radiation therapy is a substitute for chemotherapy or is it used in conjunction with chemotherapy. So, let’s talk about that.

Radiation is complementary to chemotherapy in colon cancer. Typically, chemotherapy is used to control both local and distant disease or possible distant disease in colon cancer. However, in patients who cannot tolerate chemotherapy for one reason or another, for example if they are bad candidates for chemotherapy due to health reasons or they just cannot tolerate the side effects of chemotherapy. Then, in certain cases radiotherapy can be used. Specifically, if a tumor has attached itself to an adjacent organ or another part of the colon.

To give you a quick summary: radiation is complementary to chemotherapy; it is used in select cases where a tumor may attach itself to another organ and in certain cases, if possible in patients who do not tolerate chemotherapy or cannot undergo chemotherapy.

Dr. Murali Murty
Dr. Murty received his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Medicine and Dentistry - New Jersey Medical school. He completed his internship in internal medicine and residency in radiation oncology at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia where he served as Chief Resident. He has done research and published on the radiotherapeutic treatment of squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck of unknown origin and total mesorectal excision of rectal cancers. His publications also include a book chapter on the radiation of vascular tumors of the ocular fundus.


This information should not be relied upon as a substitute for personal medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Use the information provided on this site solely at your own risk. If you have any concerns about your health, please consult with a physician.

© 2021 Cancer Answers LLC