© 2005-2012 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). All rights reserved worldwide.
Adjuvant therapy is additional treatment given after surgery to reduce the risk that the cancer will come back. Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat cancer.
Patients may receive chemotherapy as an injection into a vein or as a pill that can be taken by mouth. Some drugs are given continuously over several days; some are given several times a week. Adjuvant chemotherapy for colon cancer usually includes a drug called fluorouracil (5-FU). Leucovorin (Wellcovorin), irinotecan (Camptosar), and oxaliplatin (Eloxatin) may be given in addition to 5-FU. Most adjuvant chemotherapy treatment schedules last for about six to eight months.
However, chemotherapy can damage healthy cells along with cancer cells. Patients receiving chemotherapy may experience the following side effects, especially if more than one drug is used. These side effects can usually be treated and often go away once treatment is finished. However, in some patients, symptoms of peripheral neuropathy may continue.
- Tiredness (fatigue)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea and abdominal cramping
- Low white blood cell count
- Mouth sores (mucositis)
- Myelosuppression, which means the bone marrow stops producing blood cells
- Nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy), such as tingling, numbness, or pain in the hands and feet
Chemotherapy affects people in different ways. Some patients experience mild side effects, while others require hospitalization because of these side effects. Occasionally, these side effects become life-threatening. The risk of dying from the adjuvant chemotherapy is very low, less than 1%, but may be higher in patients who are older and have other health issues. Talk with your doctor about the risk of side effects from adjuvant chemotherapy, how long they could last, and how to treat them.