Colorectal Cancer

Biological therapies for bowel cancer

Biological or immuno-therapies are derived from, or target substances that occur naturally in the body. They have been designed or modified in the laboratory to target and destroy particular types of cancer cells. There are different types of biological therapy, including' monoclonal antibodies, cancer growth inhibitors, vaccines and gene therapy.

The main biological therapies licensed for use with bowel cancer are monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies can be designed to find a particular type of cancer cell, attach itself to them and destroy them. They can also be designed to carry a radioactive molecule, which then delivers radiation directly to the cancer cells. 

Biological therapies are usually used in combination with chemotherapy when the cancer has spread beyond the bowel (metastatic bowel cancer). Research is also looking at whether vaccines and gene therapy can be used to treat bowel cancer, but this type of research is in the very early stages.

Biological therapies are not available to everyone with bowel cancer, but doctors in England may be able to fund them through the Cancer Drugs Fund or as part of a clinical trial.


Stephen is waiting to see if he is eligible for a clinical trial using biological therapies.

Stephen is waiting to see if he is eligible for a clinical trial using biological therapies.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 15
So at the moment yeah, we’re, we’re waiting to see if I’m eligible for another for a clinical trial.

So you’re waiting to see whether you’re eligible?

Yeah and if I have this specific mutation then this monoclonal antibody drug it probably, will probably just go for it and try so in terms of how I feel about clinical trials, the efficacy for me might not be huge, the chances it will actually do something is very slim. With this one it’s a bit higher because there’s a proposed mechanism of why I might interact well so I’ll probably give it a go. But if it doesn’t work for me there’s a feeling, well the fact that you help patients in the future is important so I’m happy to help.

We have not yet been able to interview anyone who has had experience of biological therapies for bowel cancer. If you have had this treatment and you would like us to include your story on this website, please email info@healthtalk.org
Donate to healthtalk.org Last reviewed August 2016.
Last updated August 2016.
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