Surgery is the main treatment for colorectal cancer. The most appropriate type of surgery depends on the size of the cancer and whether or not it has spread. If the cancer is in its early stage the tumour may be completely removed; however, in some instances, sections of the bowel may also need to be removed. This procedure is known as a ‘total mesorectal surgery’.

If the cancer cells have spread, your doctor may consider using surgery in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation to alleviate your symptoms. Post-operative radiation therapy or chemotherapy is known as ‘adjunctive treatment’ and is used to increase chances of survival.


Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells which work by disrupting the growth of cancer cells. The drugs are sometimes given orally, or more commonly intravenously (by injection into a vein). Doctors may advise having chemotherapy and radiotherapy together before or after surgery to minimise chances of the cancer returning. This treatment is also used when cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body.

If you want to know more about chemotherapy, see our information on coping with treatment.


Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high-energy rays which shrink tumours and destroy cancer cells, while harming normal cells as little as possible. It can be used as a stand-alone treatment, before or after surgery. There are two types of radiotherapy: external radiotherapy and internal radiotherapy.

If you want to know more about radiotherapy, see our information on coping with treatment.

Side effects

Cancer treatments can cause a range of side effects. For more information on common side effects and tips on how to cope with them, see our information on coping with treatment.

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