Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer begins when healthy cells in the inner lining of the colon or rectum mutate and grow uncontrollably. These cells accumulate and form a mass, known as a primary tumor. Cancer that begins in the colon is called colon cancer, and cancer that begins in the rectum is called rectal cancer.

The main treatment options for colorectal cancer have included surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and radiation therapy. In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first immunotherapy to treat colorectal cancer in children and adults with metastatic disease that is microsatellite high (MSI-H). This strategy uses immune checkpoint inhibitors to target and block the PD-1 receptor on certain immune cells (T-cells), to block specific proteins and receptors from triggering a slowdown of the immune system.

Research is continuing in clinical trials to learn more about colorectal cancer, including ways to prevent, detect and treat it. The use of checkpoint inhibitors in combination with other therapies is also being evaluated.

Clinical trials offer people the opportunity to try new therapies that are not widely available (see Clinical Trials). Ask your doctor if a clinical trial may be an option for you.


FDA-Approved Immunotherapies for Colorectal Cancer*
As of 12/5/17
nivolumab (Opdivo)
pembrolizumab (Keytruda)

*Each therapy is prescribed based on specific criteria. Discuss your options
with your doctor.

Additional Resources


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