Bowel Cancer Treatments

Modern medicine has come on leaps and bounds in the past couple of years making more and more treatments available to deal with bowel cancer once it has been diagnosed.

A lot of the treatments depend on what stage of cancer you have and this will help surgeons determine how best to treat it.

​In this section, we talk about surgery, chemotherapy treatment, radiation treatment, immunotherapy treatment and non-invasive surgery.

​Always discuss with your oncologist which treatment is right for you.


Surgery to remove the cancer cells is the only treatment required for most people with (stage I) and (stage II) bowel cancer.

Segments of the large intestine (large Bowel) is removed that contains cancer as well as the removal of around 10 to 20 lymph glands, which are examined to determine whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Most bowel cancers can be removed without the need for a permanent colostomy bag.


Chemotherapy is the most common treatment available right now to help extend life expectancy and quality of life once bowel cancer has spread to other parts of the body (stage III and IV cancer). At this stage, chemotherapy is not a cure.

Chemotherapy is likely to be used if cancer has spread to local lymph nodes (stage III) as the risk of the cancer returning remains high even if all visible evidence of cancer has been removed by the surgery. The chemotherapy drug is usually given either by pill or by injection into a vein, or the combination of the two and can last for a total of 6 months.

Clinical trials in New Zealand are underway to see if reducing the amount of time with chemotherapy to three months makes an overall difference to reducing side effects but still having the desired outcome.

Watch this space…

Radiation Therapy (Radiotherapy)

Radiotherapy uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells. It is not often used for bowel cancer but more for cancer of the rectum. This is because tumours in the rectum are more difficult to remove surgically than are tumours in other parts of the bowel.

Advanced bowel cancer, however, may require Radiation Therapy. The aim of the treatment is not to cure cancer but to shrink cancer or slow down its growth. This relieves symptoms such as pain in the pelvis or rectum.

Radiation therapy doesn’t hurt and only takes a few minutes. The main side effects of radiotherapy treatment include tiredness and weakness, sore skin, and loss of hair in the treatment area.

For many people, the side effects of radiotherapy wear off within a few weeks of the treatment ending and they can go back to a normal life. But for some people radiotherapy can cause long term side effects. The possibility of long term side effects can depend on the type of cancer and its size and position.

It may also depend on how close the cancer is to nerves or other important organs or tissues.

It is important to ask your doctor, specialist nurse or radiographer about the possibility of long term side effects. Depending on the position of the cancer the possible long term effects may include:

  1. A change in skin colour in the treatment area
  2. A dry mouth
  3. Breathing problems
  4. Loss of ability to become pregnant or father a child (infertility)
  5. Low sex drive
  6. Erection problems (impotence)
  7. Long term soreness and pain
  8. Bowel changes
  9. Bladder inflammation


Your immune system is your bodies natural defence which seeks out and destroys anything that is not recognised as part of itself, including all kinds of germs and cancer cells, before they have a chance to cause disease.

Your immune system manages to destroy most rogue cells but some of them get by your defences. If you already have cancer, your immune system will still be working hard to keep your disease in check, but it probably can't do the job on its own.

Some immunotherapy treatments are not funded in New Zealand and therefore you may need to pay for treatment in a private oncology centre. Some pharmaceutical companies have "Cost Share Programmes" available through private oncology centres to help make these medicines more affordable.

Cost Share Programmes may offer free treatment doses or a capped payment for the duration of treatment. Always involve your Doctor/oncologist to work out which immunotherapy treatment could be right for you.

Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust helps patients on to the Keytruda & Avastin Cost Share Programmes with the pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp & Dohme NZ (MSD NZ) and Roche NZ.

Non-invasive surgery – Pre cancerous bowel tumours

Pre-cancerous bowel tumours can now be removed in under 45 mins without the need for surgery. New technology devised in the UK means there’s a less invasive way to remove polyps as well as reduce the chance of bowel perforation.

Click here to read more on this topic from the Daily Mail.

Complimentary medicines - Does Frankincense help fight bowel cancer?

Scientists in 2016 noted that Frankincense oil also had anti-tumour properties which showed that it had the potential to disrupt cancer cell growth.

Other research relayed in suggests Frankincense can target cancer cells directly without harming healthy cells which is the outcome of other traditional therapies such as chemotherapy.

Scientists say more research is required to corroborate these initial findings and make the natural remedy a part of everyday treatment for cancer patients.

NZ Bowel Cancer sufferer Jack Davis regularly takes Frankincense and believes it has contributed to his positive fight against the disease.

Jack was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer nearly two years ago and has been undergoing treatment with the immunotherapy drug, Keytruda as well as using Frankincense as a complementary treatment.

While there is no denying Keytruda has played a major role in his ongoing management of the disease, Jack believes Frankincense has definitely helped.

His tumours have almost disappeared with only one now visible and his own immune system running to keep any further tumours at bay.

(Read Jack’s story here)

Currently, Frankincense is available in New Zealand as an essential oil, capsules, a tincture or Boswellia Serrata Extract as a supplement powder.

Learn more about Frankincense

Charity Achievements

Key Milestones reached by Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust team.


Dollars distributed to help fund vital research and providing better patient outcomes


Bowel cancer survivors rehabilitated after gruelling treatment helping to reduce cancer re-occurrence


Bowel screening kits provided to Kiwi’s who do not qualify for free public screening to detect bowel cancer early


Loving families kept together for longer with help for immunotherapy treatments that help reduce tumours