Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. Usually the drugs are given by infusion into a vein. Some are taken by mouth in pill form. Then they enter your bloodstream and travel throughout your body.

People with rectal cancer often have chemotherapy with radiation therapy before surgery, which improves results in those with advanced disease, and they may have chemotherapy after surgery to help prevent their cancer from coming back (recurring). People whose cancer cannot be removed surgically may have chemotherapy to control their disease.

Chemotherapy for Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) patients who need infusions takes place in the Infusion Suite on the fifth floor of the SCCA clinic.

Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy

This is chemotherapy given before surgery to help shrink your tumor so it’s easier to remove completely. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is sometimes given along with radiation therapy because the combination makes the radiation more effective.

Adjuvant Chemotherapy

This is chemotherapy given after surgery to increase the chances of a cure. Even when doctors remove all the cancer they can see at the time of surgery, some microscopic cancer cells may be left behind. Chemotherapy after surgery tries to kill these cells.

Primary Treatment

Your doctor may recommend chemotherapy as your first treatment if your cancer has already spread to another area of your body at the time of diagnosis. Most of the time surgery cannot get rid of all the cancer in this situation. Chemotherapy is given to shrink your tumors, ease your symptoms, and prolong your life.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Although chemotherapy may help cure your cancer or extend your life, it may also make you uncomfortable. Fortunately, some of the newer chemotherapy medications have fewer side effects than the drugs used in the past.

Your team at SCCA will talk with you about the specific side effects you might experience, and we will help you prevent, reduce, or manage these effects as best as possible. You can find general information in the symptom management section.