New research has been hailed as good news for people who undergo surgery for bowel cancer. Read about how research shows three months of chemotherapy could be as effective as six, in certain cases.

Good news for bowel cancer patients undergoing surgery

Currently, patients receive six months of oxaliplatin chemotherapy post-surgery as standard. However, this treatment comes with a range of unpleasant side-effects, the most significant of which is nerve damage affecting the hands and feet. Peripheral neuropathy, as it is called, has a detrimental impact on quality of life and can be long-term.

But researchers have found that the duration of chemotherapy could potentially be halved without significantly reducing its effectiveness.

Results of the international clinical trial were published in Lancet Oncology, showed that three months of chemo rather than the current six months made very little difference to the effectiveness of the treatment but had a significant impact on incidents of peripheral neuropathy.

Study of 6,000 patients

The SCOT study, led by the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit in Glasgow, involved 6,088 patients with high-risk stage two or stage three bowel cancer from across Europe, New Zealand and Australia. Some patients received the standard six-month course while others had only three months of chemotherapy. Both groups were monitored for three years after treatment.

Researchers found that 76.7% of patients who received three months of chemotherapy were disease-free after three years. This compared with 77.1% of patients who had a six-month course. In addition, the patients who underwent the three-month chemotherapy course reported fewer side effects, less peripheral neuropathy and a better quality of life.

Better quality of life

This study could change the way that bowel cancer patients are treated in the future.

Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer, Deborah Alsina MBE hailed the research as “positive news for patients”.

She said that if the reduced length of chemotherapy becomes standard practice “it would mean that people could finish their treatment sooner, avoid those debilitating often long-term side effects and, therefore, enjoy a better quality of life in the future.”

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It is normally given in several treatment cycles. There are different types of chemotherapy:

  • Adjuvant chemotherapy is given if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or there is a high risk of it returning.
  • Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is chemotherapy given alongside radiotherapy to shrink the cancer before surgery. This may be given if you have rectal cancer that has spread to your lymph nodes.
  • Palliative chemotherapy is given if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. It is unlikely to cure the cancer but may help to ease the symptoms or keep the cancer under control.

As with all cancers, early diagnosis of bowel cancer provides the best chance of successful treatment. It is important to be aware of the possible symptoms and to attend for routine screening.

Working with a specialist that can promptly diagnose and monitor your symptoms, will give you the best chance to get back to feeling your best.