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Chemotherapy for bowel cancer

Chemotherapy medicine may be recommended to help kill bowel cancer cells.

Depending on the stages or spread of the bowel cancer, chemotherapy may be given on its own, or combined with other treatments.

A course of chemotherapy may be given as an IV drip or as a tablet, and a course of treatment may last up to six months.

Chemotherapy may start before a bowel cancer operation in combination with radiotherapy.

It may also be given after surgery to help prevent cancer returning.

In advanced bowel cancer, chemotherapy may be used to help to stop the cancer spreading.

Palliative chemotherapy may also be recommended to manage symptoms in advanced bowel cancer.

What are the side-effects of chemotherapy for bowel cancer?

The side-effects of chemotherapy can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Rash on the hands and feet
  • Diarrhoea

Other side-effects associated with chemotherapy on the bone marrow include an increased risk of infection (due to low white blood cell counts), bleeding or bruising from minor injuries (due to low blood platelet counts), and anaemia-related fatigue (due to low red blood cell counts).

The side-effects that occur with chemotherapy depend upon the particular medicines given and the individual patient. For example, hair loss is not common in most chemotherapy treatment currently offered for bowel cancer. However, some people may experience some hair thinning. Although it may take some time, the side-effects related to chemotherapy will resolve when the treatment is stopped.

If you are experiencing any side-effects, discuss this with your GP or specialist, particularly if they are unexpected. In many cases, they can be treated or prevented with medication or changes in diet.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 09, 2014

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