Chemotherapy & Oral Chemotherapy

If you have stage III or stage IV colorectal cancer, it is very likely you will need some form of chemotherapy during the course of treatment. Chemotherapy may be used alone, or in combination with other targeted therapies.

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to stop or limit the growth of rapidly dividing cancer cells.

Chemotherapy can be taken:

  • by mouth (oral chemotherapy)
  • injected into a vein (intravenous chemotherapy) to reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemically)
  • placed directly into the abdomen where the drugs mostly affect cancer cells in that area (regional chemotherapy)

Common Chemotherapy & Targeted TherapiesTargeted Therapy Redesign


Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Your side effects will depend on how your chemotherapy is given and the type of drug you receive. Since chemotherapy attacks all rapidly dividing cells, healthy cells from all over the body may be impacted, too.

It’s common to feel side effects in your mouth, hair and stomach, for example.

See more information in Step 5: Dealing with Side Effects.

Oral Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy the stomach absorbs is offered orally, as a tablet or capsule, and can be swallowed at home. It is equally as strong as other forms of chemotherapy and works just as well, as long as it’s taken on schedule (daily, weekly, monthly or otherwise scheduled by your doctor.) Oral chemotherapy, such as capecitabine (Xeloda®) or oral targeted therapy, such as Stivarga®, can cause the same side effects as other forms of chemotherapy.

Your doctor will want to know about any problems you have when taking oral medications. Taking your pills exactly as prescribed (treatment adherence) is very important.

Talk with your doctor or nurse about the importance of taking your medication on time and as directed. If you are prescribed an oral chemotherapy or an oral targeted therapy, you will work with a specialty pharmacist to fulfill your prescription. When taking an oral chemotherapy, your specialty pharmacist should be considered part of your healthcare team.

Tips on working with your specialty pharmacy

  • Many times specialty pharmacies deliver your medication to you through the mail, so be sure to ask your healthcare team the name of the specialty pharmacy you should be expecting to hear from.
  • They can assist you with:
    • making sure you understand how to take your medication
    • providing financial assistance in paying for your medication
    • managing treatment side effects

Chemotherapy Treatment Options

For information about chemotherapy options and to see recommended treatment plans:

Content medically-reviewed by members of the Fight Colorectal Cancer Medical Advisory Board, February 2014