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Chemotherapy for Colorectal Cancer

Chemotherapy uses drugs to enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body to kill cancer cells. The side effects from chemotherapy are from the destruction of normal cells. Chemotherapy may be given either alone, or with surgery, radiation therapy , or other medications.

Commonly used agents include:

  • 5-Fluorouracil with leucovorin
  • Capecitabine
  • Oxaliplatin
  • Irinotecan

Chemotherapy is usually given by vein, but some forms can be given by mouth. Your medical oncologist will tell you how many cycles or courses of chemotherapy are best for you.

The side effects and amount of time required in the doctor’s office depends on the type of chemotherapy you receive, as well as how many cycles you receive and how often. The most common chemotherapy-associated side effects are:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Confusion, forgetfulness
  • Decreased blood counts, sometimes with bruising, bleeding, or infection
  • Possible sores inside the mouth
  • Numbness in the hands and feet
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased urgency to have a bowel movement or urinate

A variety of drugs are available to help manage side effects such as nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue due to anemia. Ask your doctor what treatments may be appropriate for you to manage these side effects, and be certain to contact your doctor as soon as you begin to experience side effects. The earlier side effects are addressed, the more likely they will be controlled with a minimum of discomfort.

Revision Information

  • Colon cancer treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Accessed May 14, 2013.

  • Colorectal cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Updated January 17, 2013. Accessed May 15, 2013.

  • Colorectal cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated May 3, 2013. Accessed May 15, 2013.

  • Rectal cancer treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Accessed May 14, 2013.

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