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Side effects

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


  • Being dehydrated can impact your treatment and your health. Get the tips and tricks you need to stay on top of your hydration needs.


  • Common side effects for people on drugs like Erbitux and Vectibix are dry skin, acne and rashes. Learn more about best ways to lessen the impact.


  • Check out the chart below to learn about more side effects and what you can do to manage them.



Nausea and vomiting

Most treatments

There are numerous prescription medications available.

Treat early and aggressively.

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


Increased number of stools and/or change in consistency

Most treatments

Irinotecan can cause severe diarrhea

Prescriptions including sandostatin a long acting injection.

Over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medicines.

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.


All treatments

Rest when you are tired.

Plan activities when you have the most energy.

Ask for help.

Fatigue may also be a result of:

  • depression,
  • pain
  • dehydration
  • sleep problems

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

Peripheral neuropathy

Inability to tolerate cold, tingling and/or pain.


Some anti-epileptics, anti-depressants, acupuncture and/or 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 effect.


Opportunistic fungal infection can occur from the mouth to the anus.

Chemotherapy (5-FU, etc.)

Salt water rinses, topical anesthetics, coating agents (Kaopectate, etc.) and pain medication. Treat aggressively to prevent secondary infection.

Hand and Foot Syndrome

Blistering, peeling. Affects skin and nails.

Capecitabine but may occur with 5FU

Mild skin creams gently applied to area.

Take cool showers.

Wear thick cotton socks, and avoid constrictive shoes.

Avoid friction and heat.

Limit sun exposure and use sunscreen

Stay well hydrated.


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


Side effect management

Integrative Medicine: Look into your cancer center to see if they offer integrative medicine. Patients that do the best combine complementary therapies such as acupuncture, massage, nutritional supplements, exercise, yoga, reiki with western medicines of chemotherapy. Many integrative oncologists will work closely with your oncologist to ensure you are not taking anything that will interfere with chemotherapy

Essential viewing


Watch this webinar where Dr. Kerry Tobias explains your options and discusses how you can team up with your doctor to survive treatment side effects.

More resources


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