colorectal cancer and preparing for chemotherapy? ask about your risk of serious side effects

If you have been diagnosed with stage III or IV colon, rectal, or anal cancer, chances are your doctors are discussing with you the need for chemotherapy.  The standard drug for treating these types of cancers is fluorouracil (popularly known as 5-FU).


Oncologists have used this drug for many years in treating these cancers, and in some cases for treating breast, head and neck cancers, and the perception is that this is "fairly well tolerated" by patients.


The truth is that not all patients tolerate this fairly well.  In fact a significant number of patients suffer severe toxic reactions that lead to hospitalization -- this affects anywhere from 10% to 40% of treated patients with between 500-1000 fatalities each year in the USA. 


Though the majority of patients have manageable side effects when treated with 5-FU, you should insist on discussing with your oncologist ways to minimize your risk and to provide you a better outcome.  


The goal of this site is to encourage patients suffering colon, rectal, or anal cancer to discuss personalized chemotherapy regimens with their oncologists before starting treatment.   You should not take at face value that the treatment is "fairly well tolerated".


Fluorouracil (also known as 5-FU or Xeloda) has been used for many years as a key chemotherapy agent in the treatment of patients with colon, rectal, anal cancers and is sometimes used to treat head/neck and breast cancer patients.  Oncologists consider this an effective and low risk means of destroying cancerous cells. 


However, medical journals in recent years point to a greater risk of toxic reactions that can lead to hospitalization and, in rare cases, to death.


The intent here is NOT to scare patients, facing cancer is frightening enough, nor to discourage patients from seeking professional medical care.  Instead, the intent is to increase awareness of the risk and to embolden patients and their families to have an educated discussion with their physicians about the risks associated with 5-FU chemotherapy. 


So the following information may prepare you to have a frank discussion with your care provider:


Kathryn received one round of FOLFOX (5-FU, leucovorin, and oxaliplatin) and passed away within 3 weeks (see Personal Stories).  Kathryn inspired many people in our community in many ways and here her inspiration takes form among these pages in the hope that it will achieve one of her last wishes:

"I am optimistic and very grateful to all who have traveled this path before me and contributed to the knowledge and experience of those whose vocation is to heal people like me.  May my experience also contribute to the body of learning."


This site is dedicated to honor her wish and to help others avoid the fate she suffered.

"May my experience contribute to the body of learning."

Headwaters of the Mississippi River, Lake Itasca MN
Headwaters of the Mississippi River, Lake Itasca MN