As a cancer patient, it can be hard to understand the timing for all the treatments your doctor has recommended. In particular, it can be challenging to master the details of the time frame between surgery and chemotherapy or radiation.

Researchers are still trying to figure this out as well. What is the best time to follow up surgical removal of a tumor or tumors with chemo? How does the type of cancer influence this time frame? 

Starting Chemotherapy After Surgery

Chemo is often given after surgery to ensure that all the cancer is removed and to decrease the chances of recurrence. However, according to, there are no clear-cut guidelines to tell oncologists the best time for starting adjuvant chemotherapy since "leftover" cancer cells can be hard to spot.

While doctors don't usually want to delay chemo, patients generally need some time to recover from surgery and prepare for the procedure. Delaying too long, though, can make any remaining cancer cells begin to grow again or become resistant to anti-cancer drugs.

A recent study done at the University of Texas aimed to come up with the ideal time frame between surgery and chemo for breast cancer patients. Their findings show that there are no issues with starting chemotherapy 30 to 90 days after surgery, but that patients who wait more than 90 days have a 34 percent higher chance of dying within 5 years. 

Timing of Chemotherapy for Different Types of Cancer

The recent University of Texas study was conducted on patients with a specific type of breast cancer. Other studies have looked at timing chemo and other follow-up procedures for different types of cancer.

For instance, research done on colorectal cancer, which is the second most common type of cancer in the U.S., shows similar results. A Korean study looked at 159 patients with stage III colorectal cancers who had surgery and follow-up chemo. Some of the patients had chemotherapy within 2 weeks of surgery, while a second group had it in 3 to 4 weeks and a third group had it more than 5 weeks later. 

After 5 years, nearly 74 percent of patients in the first group and 67 percent of patients in the second group had survived; this includes everyone who had chemo within a month of surgery. Only 55.2 percent of the patients who waited longer than one month were still living, however.

An oncologist, like Sturdy Memorial Hospital, will best be able to set the treatment schedule for your particular case. But given the option, studies point to best results for patients who undergo adjuvant care within a month of surgery.