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What Are the Different Types of Colorectal Cancer Drugs?

By C. K. Lanz
Updated Feb 27, 2024
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There are several colorectal cancer drugs that target the specific defects that allow cancer cells to grow and spread including bevacizumab, capecitabine, and panitumumab. In many cases, these drugs are combined for maximum effectiveness. For example, a common cocktail of colorectal cancer drugs includes fluorouracil, oxaliplatin, and leucovorin. Additional medications may be prescribed to relieve the side effects of chemotherapy. Targeted drugs are typically given only to patients with advanced stages of the disease and may be taken during chemotherapy or alone.

Bevacizumab targets a type of protein called VEGF that is found in many types of tumors. VEGF attracts new blood vessels to the cancer cells. Interrupting the VEGF signal prevents the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. It is used to treat colorectal and kidney cancer in combination with other chemotherapy drugs.

Capecitabine is an oral medication and effective anti-tumor drug. It is often used to treat colorectal as well as breast cancer. This drug is an antimetabolite that works by slowing and stopping cancer cell growth. It can affect fertility and cause nausea, tingling in the hands and feet, and sores around the mouth.

Panitumumab is an intravenous drug given to patients with metastatic colorectal cancer. It inhibits the growth of cancer cells, allowing the body to fully destroy them. This medication can also affect the growth of normal body cells, therefore serious side effects can occur sometimes months or years after treatment.

A common colorectal cancer drug is fluorouracil, often combined with leucovorin and oxaliplatin. This intravenous medication impedes cancer cell division and growth. Leucovorin is a derivative of folic acid that increases fluorouracil’s effectiveness while oxaliplatin interrupts cancer cell growth. Together, these drugs are known as FOLFOX, an effective treatment for stage II and stage III colorectal cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

Medical professionals may also prescribe medications that combat the side effects of colorectal cancer drugs and chemotherapy. Most of these drugs are given to prevent nausea and vomiting. Common examples are serotonin antagonists like ondansetron and granisetron as well as promethazine and metoclopramide.

Targeted medications for colorectal cancer are not among the disease’s primary treatment options. Surgery is used to treat early-stage, advanced-stage and invasive cancers. Chemotherapy and radiation are often combined as one treatment depending on the disease’s stage. Targeted colorectal cancer drugs are often reserved for the most advanced stages of the disease because of the risk of potential side effects and the cost.

Not all patients will improve by taking targeted colorectal cancer drugs. Researchers have not yet determined which patients are most likely to benefit. As a result, medical professionals and patients should weigh the benefits against the risk of side effects and the potentially expensive cost of taking these medications.

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