There are several ways of treating bowel cancer. These treatments include:

  • surgery
  • chemotherapy
  • radiation treatment
  • targeted therapies.

Most people will have surgery.

Some people receive a combination of two or more treatments. Your treatment will depend on the size of the cancer, its location and whether it has spread. Your general health and your wishes are also important in the decision-making. Our list of questions may help you discuss your treatment with your doctor. In some cases you may want to seek a second opinion.

Your treatment team

You will be cared for by a range of health professionals, known as a multidisciplinary team. Each focuses on a different part of your treatment. Working with you, the team will develop a treatment plan that offers you the best care. Your multidisciplinary team is likely to include:

  • a general practitioner—is responsible for your general health and referring you for specialist treatment
  • a general surgeon or colorectal surgeon—is responsible for diagnostic tests and surgery to remove cancer from your bowel
  • a medical oncologist—specialises in cancer treatment using medication. They are responsible for prescribing any chemotherapy and other treatment options, such as targeted therapies
  • a radiation oncologist - specialises in radiation treatment. This person arranges, prescribes, plans and supervises any course of radiation
  • a radiologist—uses diagnostic imaging methods (such as CT scans) to see inside the body
  • a pathologist—analyses samples of body tissue to help with diagnosing and staging your bowel cancer
  • cancer nurses and care coordinators—provide assessments, support and information throughout your treatment
  • a stomal therapist—helps you if you have a stoma bag (colostomy or ileostomy)
  • a social worker—provides support and information about emotional and practical problems (such as employment and financial issues, home help and childcare)
  • a pharmacist—gives advice on medication
  • a dietitian—gives advice on nutrition to help you to manage the effects on the bowel after surgery and during other cancer treatments
  • palliative care doctors and nurses—work closely with your general practitioner and oncologists to provide supportive and palliative care. Their aim is to help you to manage the effects of your cancer at home and in hospital.

As well as the multidisciplinary team, hospitals have pastoral and spiritual care workers, and whānau and Pacific health care workers. They are available on request to talk to you throughout your treatment.

“I’m the type of person to ask questions, they [the team] were really kind - not patronising ‘kind’. They were very patient explaining to me.” Silei