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Because cancer treatments often damage healthy cells and tissues, side effects are common..

Treatment side effects depend mainly on the type and extent of the treatment. Side effects may not be the same for each person, and they may change from one treatment session to the next. Before treatment starts, your health care team will explain possible side effects and suggest ways to help you manage them.

Side Effect: Nausea and vomiting
Causes: Most treatments


  • There are numerous prescription medications available.

  • Treat early and aggressively.

Notes: If a medication is not working, talk to your doctor about trying something else.

Side Effect: Diarrhea  
Causes: Increased number of stools and/or change inconsistency


  • Chemotherapy containing fluorouracil (5FU, Capecitabine)

  • Irinotecan

  • Prescriptions including Sandostatin a long-acting injection.

  • Over the counter loperamide.


After colon resection, it will take some time for your digestive system to adjust.  By trial and error, you will discover which foods you can tolerate.

Side Effect: Fatigue
Causes: All treatments



  • Rest when you are tired.  

  • Plan activities when you have the most energy.

  • Ask people for help.

Fatigue may also be a result of 

  • depression

  • pain

  • sleep problems


Let your doctor know if you have any of these symptoms. 

Side Effect: Peripheral neuropathy - Inability to tolerate cold, tingling and/or pain.
Causes: Oxaliplatin - Given with IV administration of Calcium and Magnesium for the prevention of neuropathy.



  • Some anti-epileptics, anti-depressants, and creams are helpful.

  • Ingest foods and liquids at room temperature.

  • Have gloves by the refrigerator.

  • Symptoms usually regress after treatment.

  • Up to 3.5% of people still have neuropathy four years after treatment ends.

  • Most frequent treatment-limiting side effects.


Side Effect: Mucositis (Thrush, white patches, cold sores) - Opportunistic fungal infection can occur from the mouth to the anus.  
Causes: Chemotherapy containing fluorouracil (5FU, Capecitabine)



  • Magic™ mouthwash Anti-fungal prescription medicines.

  • Local anesthetics, analgesics.

  • Do not use hydrocortisone as it will exacerbate the mucositis.

  • Do not assume that pain is a hemorrhoid. It could be thrush, and hemorrhoid cream will worsen the condition.

  • Transient lactose intolerance may occur with mucositis.

  • This occurs in 20-50% of people on 5FU.


Side Effect: Hand and Foot Syndrome - Blistering, peeling. It affects skin and nails. 
Causes: Capecitabine but may occur with 5FU



  • Mild skin creams gently applied to area.

  • ake cool showers.

  • Wear thick cotton socks, and avoid constrictive shoes.

  • Avoid friction and heat.

Read the article, Knocking Out the Side Effects of Colorectal Cancer Treatment by Laura Porter, MD featured in Coping Magazine.

This information was compiled with the generous help of the Colon Cancer Alliance.

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