Treatment for colorectal cancer can cause painful or distressing side effects. Side effects and their symptoms are not the same for everyone. Whether they occur and how difficult they are depends very much on the individual. Understanding ahead of time what might happen and preparing for it can make a big difference in both your comfort and your safety during treatment.
Keys to managing side effects effectively include:
Prevention: Some side effects can be prevented entirely or made less difficult by intervention before treatment begins. Waiting for nausea or vomiting to start before treating it, for instance, is almost always less successful that giving medication to prevent it.
Early intervention: Patients should understand what early symptoms of side effects are and when to call their doctors for help so treatment can begin as soon as possible. Certain medications should be kept on hand with instructions on how to use them.
Careful monitoring: Patients and doctors need to work as partners to watch for worsening side effects and treat them promptly. Diarrhea, for instance, can go from mild and uncomplicated to complicated and dangerous quickly after treatment with some chemotherapy drugs used to treat colorectal cancer.
Reducing dosage or postponing treatment: Although patients sometimes fear that a smaller dose of a drug or a missed treatment will make cancer worse or prevent its cure, unmanaged side effects can be even more dangerous. Reducing treatment dose or skipping a session is a common strategy that often enables patients to complete chemotherapy safely and successfully.
Changing strategies: When something isn’t working, it is important to change the approach—try a different drug, add a second one, alter dosage. Close collaboration and good communication between the patient and the treatment team is vital.
Understanding self-help: Exercise, family support, stress management, eating well, joining a support group, meditation, guided imagery and similar complementary methods can make coping with side effects less difficult.
Where Can You Go for More Information
The National Cancer Institute has fact sheets to help you manage many different side effects. NCI fact sheets are simple to read and understand and include information about when to call your doctor and what questions to ask your doctors and nurses.