Side-effects of treatment

There are three main types of treatment for bowel cancer: surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Depending on the stage and location of your cancer, you may receive one or a combination of these treatments.


Side-effects from these treatments are common, but will affect different people in different ways. Many effects are short lived and will settle with time, or as the particular phase of treatment ends.


As a general guide, some of the most common side-effects of surgery and treatment may include:


  • a change in bowel function (diarrhoea, urgency or constipation)
  • nausea and / or vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • tiredness and a lack of energy
  • pain – often as a result of surgery, or a side-effect of radiotherapy
  • an increased risk of infection
  • skin changes
  • soreness and ulcers in your mouth
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy).

Managing side-effects

We explain ways to manage side-effects in more detail on these pages:


Regaining Bowel Control

Chemo Induced Nausea and Vomiting

Managing Side-Effects Through Diet

Side-effects of Radiotherapy

Peripheral Neuropathy

Coping with long-term side-effects

For some people, treatment and surgery for bowel cancer can result in long-term side-effects. It can take longer than you expected to get back on your feet, and many people experience a lack of energy and problems when trying to get back to work or regular activity in the months following their active treatment. Changes in bowel habit and lifestyle can take time to become part of a normal routine, for you and for your family and friends, and can leave you feeling depressed. Worries about financial pressures and relationships with loved ones can also take their toll.


Do talk to your doctor, specialist nurse or our nurse advisor if you are having problems adjusting or just not able to find a way to move forward with your life. Your specialist team will be able to suggest ways of supporting you, reducing and managing both your physical and emotional problems.


The support offered by the Beating Bowel Cancer team and our network of Bowel Cancer Voice volunteers can make a real difference too. Don’t wait until things are falling apart to ask for help. One to one support from your specialist nurse, or one of our patient-to-patient support volunteers, coupled with the right information early in your bowel cancer treatment can make a huge difference to your recovery.


Please see our ‘Beyond Bowel Cancer – Living Well‘ booklet for further advice.