Possible late effects of colon cancer treatment

Most people have side effects during, and for a few weeks after bowel cancer treatment. Usually these effects gradually lessen and disappear. But some people may have side effects that continue months after treatment and sometimes become permanent. Other people may develop delayed side effects of treatment months or years later. These effects after treatment is over are called long-term effects or late effects of treatment.

These late effects may include:

  • hernia
  • bowel adhesions
  • changes in sensation to hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy)
  • tiredness
  • difficulty concentrating.

Not everyone has or gets these late effects and many get better over time. It’s important that you let your doctor or nurse know if side effects you had during treatment aren't going away, or if you develop new problems after treatment has finished. There are things that may help to manage or treat late effects.

Long-term and late effects

You may come across different terms to describe side effects that happen or are still present after treatment is over.

There are two commonly used terms:

  • long-term effects
  • late effects.

Long-term effects begin during or shortly after treatment and don’t go away in the six months after treatment. They may go away eventually on their own, with symptoms gradually reducing for up to a year or two after treatment ends. Sometimes long-term effects are permanent.

Late effects are a delayed response to treatment. They don't appear during treatment, but can happen months or even years later.

In this information we use the term late effects to include both long-term and late effects.

There are often things that can be done to manage or treat long-term or late effects. Let your cancer doctor or nurse know if side effects you developed during treatment aren't going away, or if you develop new symptoms or problems after treatment is over.


Possible late effects of colon cancer treatments

The main treatments for colon cancer are surgery and chemotherapy.

Surgery

Surgery can cause changes in the tissues of the abdomen (tummy). The skin may be less stretchy and the abdominal wall less strong. Weakness in the muscle of the abdomen can lead to a hernia developing months or years later. Sometimes scar tissue inside the abdomen – called adhesions – may cause pain or discomfort or, may narrow the bowel.

Chemotherapy

Some chemotherapy drugs can cause changes in sensation, such as pins and needles or numbness in your hands and feet. These changes may take several months to get better and for some people are permanent.

Cancer treatment can also cause more general changes in how you feel. You may be more tired than usual for many months after treatment or have difficulty concentrating or remembering things. These side effects usually improve gradually over time.