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Side effects. The majority of side effects associated with chemotherapy or radiotherapy usually disappear at the end of the treatment. These symptoms are treated with medicines as and when they appear: nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, skin irritations on the hands and feet.
The digestive opening (stoma) carried out in the case of colostomies and ileostomies (a hole in the stomach made for surgical purposes) is considered a side effect of the surgical intervention. In such cases the hospital will provide relevant indications about looking after the stoma, whether it is temporary or permanent.
Alcohol. Patients must not drink alcoholic beverages during chemotherapy. They may begin drinking alcohol again moderately after the surgical intervention as long as they are not going to receive any other adjunct treatments.
Smoking. It is important to try and quit smoking as tobacco consumption worsens the side effects of the treatments and inhibits good tissue healing in the case of surgery.
Diet. There is no scientific evidence to suggest you should avoid eating proteins or sugars if you have cancer. No particular food is contraindicated, except on rare occasions due to interactions with certain drugs.
It is a good idea to eat whatever you want but in small amounts and 4–5 times a day. It is important to maintain your muscular body mass and avoid losing too much weight.
During treatment, patients should eat foods that are easy to digest and follow a diet with not too much fibre to avoid gases, abdominal bloating and the possibility of diarrhoea.
Post-surgery, different foods will be introduced gradually so that the new bowel movement pattern is established naturally. The only difference for patients with a digestive stoma is that the introduction will be slower and more controlled.
Exercise. Patients can take part in physical exercise during and after treatment, so long as it is moderate and appropriate for their age.
It is important to avoid aquatic activities when receiving chemotherapy to ensure the catheters remain in good condition and to reduce the risk of infection. Moreover, patients must avoid exposure to the sun and always apply full protection sunscreen (SPF +50), even though it may not be summer, to prevent skin problems.
Patients must wait at least one month after the surgical intervention before carrying out activities that use the abdominal muscles, such as carrying heavy weights (shopping bags, 5 L bottles of water, doing sit-ups, Pilates, yoga, etc.) or swimming, amongst others. By contrast, it is important to go for a daily walk at a brisk pace to preserve good muscle mass in the legs and a regular bowel movement rhythm.
Sleep. Patients should sleep between 6–8 hours. There is no need to worry if you sleep more during chemotherapy and the first month after surgery as the body is experiencing a stressful process and therefore may need more rest than usual. Bear in mind that recovery speed depends on the patient’s age.
Sexuality. As long as you generally feel well enough, then you can still practice sex. Women of childbearing age must remember to take contraceptive measures to avoid pregnancy during treatment.
Travelling. There are no contradictions against travelling while you have colorectal cancer, patients simply need to take into account the schedule for their chemotherapy sessions.
Social and emotional support. There are different patient and family support groups offering advice and support from people who have gone through a similar situation. Ask staff at your health centre about these types of organisation.
Antonio Maria Lacy FortunyGeneral and Digestive SurgeryGastrointestinal Surgery Department
Estela Pineda LosadaOncologyMedical Oncology Department
Francesc Balaguer PrunesGastroenterologistGastroenterology Department
Mª Rosa Costa QuintàsNurseGastrointestinal Surgery Department
Published: 20 February 2018
Updated: 20 February 2018
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