Treatment & Side Effects

If your colorectal cancer diagnosis is stage II, III or IV, it’s likely that treatment options will be discussed with you. Please see the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions among those receiving treatment for colon cancer and rectal cancer.

Additionally, check out Fight Colorectal Cancer’s Your Guide in the Fight, a publication that helps you navigate your cancer journey.

What are my treatment options?
What are common side effects?
What new research is there about CRC treatment?
Where can I find the best treatment center and doctor?
How do I find out more about clinical trials?
Are there resources for preserving my fertility?


What are my treatment options?

There are a variety of treatment options for patients with colorectal cancer. New treatments have dramatically increased the percentages of patients responding to treatment, survival rates and the possibility that tumors of various stages can be removed surgically and cured. The right treatment depends on an individual’s overall health, potential side effects and the specific goals of treatment. Please see the links below for commonly recommended treatment plans for:

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What are common side effects?

Often times treatment for colorectal cancer can cause discomfort and medical side effects. Some side effects can be serious, and others are easy to manage. Everyone’s experience with chemotherapy is different, often depending on your general health and tolerance. The important thing is to be prepared, and to keep your doctors informed about how you feel.   Common side effects of chemotherapy include:

Colon Surgery

  • Pain, swelling, scars
  • Lymphedema
  • Reactions to anesthesia
  • Serious bleeding

Radiation Therapy

  • Skin changes (burnt, stiff, tender)
  • Aches, swelling, heaviness
  • Fatigue

Chemotherapy

  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Infections, fever, anemia
  • Bleeding, bruising
  • Mouth sores
  • Hair loss
  • Heart damage

Targeted therapy

  • Rashes,skin toxicities
  • Nausea, diarrhea
  • Sore eyes
  • Serious bleeding
  • Slow healing
  • Perforation in the intestine

Source: NCCN’s Guidelines for Patients

Hear from other survivors and learn about what you can do to track and manage your side effects from treatment. Remember, even if you decide not to treat late-stage CRC (for any reason), you can still receive treatment to relieve symptoms.

We host a monthly patient webinar series that often discusses treatment and managing side effects. Read through the webinar archives to find previous events where we’ve talked about treatment and side effects management. Additionally, our group on the Inspire message boards is often discussing tips and tricks for managing side effects from colorectal cancer treatment.
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What new research is there about CRC treatment?

Fight Colorectal Cancer staff work hard to keep the colorectal cancer community updated on new research findings.  Each year we host two webinars dedicated to the latest research findings from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and GI ASCO. Our webinars are designed to help patients understand the latest findings presented at both meetings. For more information, view the webinar archives.

Each year, we look for new information or data on new types of treatments on the horizon; new diagnostic tests available; new research for upcoming drugs; new research on biomarkers and they way the overall disease of colorectal cancer is treated.

For patients currently in treatment, Fight Colorectal Cancer recommends treatments that have been approved by the FDA and have been incorporated into the NCCN (National Comprehensive Cancer Network) guidelines.
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Where can I find the best treatment center and doctor?

Fight Colorectal Cancer cannot recommend any one particular physician or institution.  However, we do always recommend that when possible, patients be treated at a comprehensive cancer center.  Learn more about comprehensive care centers. Oftentimes, a comprehensive care center can recommend a treatment plan that may be executed at home, if you prefer.

Take your time to find a top-notch team of medical professionals who combine skill, experience and open communication.

Although most patients are very frightened at their cancer diagnosis and want to get started on treatment immediately, taking the time to be sure of your team’s qualifications from the start will save problems later on and will help improve your chances for long-term survival.

Choose team members where:

  1. Each doctor on the team is board-certified in his or her specialty.  The American Board of Medical Specialties has a video that may help you understand choosing a doctor.
  2. If possible, the doctor practices within a large medical center or a comprehensive cancer center such as a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
  3. Your doctors have expertise in colon or rectal cancer.
  4. Team members are involved with cancer clinical trials or willing to refer you to someone else who is.
  5. You feel comfortable and unrushed during office visits.
  6. The doctor shows an interest in you and is willing for you to be as active a partner in your treatment plan as you are comfortable being.
  7. The office is well-run:phones are answered promptly, calls are returned, appointments are made a within reasonable time, patients are seen without long waits, and all staff members are friendly and helpful.
  8. Hospitals where you have surgery or other treatments do many similar procedures each year.
  9. Your doctor accepts your insurance and admits patients to a hospital that accepts your insurance. Discuss these financial issues frankly upfront, including co-pays and other expenses that you might personally have.

Remember: The doctor who was ideal for a neighbor or friend might not be the best one for you. Check credentials and how well a potential physician’s communication style meets your own needs.

Where To Go for More Info:

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How do I find out more about clinical trials?

clinical-trials-colon-cancerClinical trials should always be considered as a treatment option for colorectal cancer patients. New treatments for colorectal cancer or new ways of preventing it are developed in a process that begins in the laboratory and moves through an orderly process of testing with cells, in animals and finally in groups of people.  The goal is to discover new therapies that are both safe and effective and offer an advantage over existing treatments. Clinical trials test new ways of treating, diagnosing or preventing colorectal cancer in people. Trials also test ways to manage side effects or focus on how to personalize treatment based on characteristics of individuals or molecular features of their tumors.

Why consider a clinical trial? What are the risks involved?

Read more here:   About Fight Colorectal Cancer’s Clinical Trials Matching Service.

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Are there resources for preserving my fertility?

Although 90% of all new colorectal cancer diagnoses’ occur in individuals 50 years of age and older, colorectal cancer is diagnosed in people younger than the age of 50. In this patient population, there are some different things to consider, such as fertility preservation.  In May 2013, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) added to their clinical treatment guidelines that “as part of education and informed consent before cancer therapy, health care providers should address the possibility of infertility with patients treated during their reproductive years (or with parents or guardians of children) and be prepared to discuss fertility preservation options and/or to refer all potential patients to appropriate reproductive specialists.”

Colorectal cancer affects both men and women equally and the effects of treatment on fertility is a special concern for young cancer patients.  If you are young cancer patient who has been diagnosed with CRC, talking with your physician about preserving your fertility is something to consider.  We encourage you to talk with your physician, before treatment begins, about this topic.

Here are some good questions to start the dialogue between you and your treatment team:

  • What are my options to preserve my fertility?
  • How will my treatment plan affect my plans to have children in the future?
  • Will this treatment make me infertile?  And if so, for how long?
  • Will my fertility preservation have any effect on my treatments for my cancer?
  • Are there any effects my treatment may have on my ability to carry a child in the future?
  • Can you refer me to a fertility specials who has experience in treating cancer patients?

If you’d like to learn more about the topic of fertility, here are few good resources that Fight Colorectal Cancer suggests:

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