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Medications for Colorectal Cancer

The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included. Ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications only as recommended by your doctor, and according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.

Some medications can be used as part of a treatment plan. Other medications may help to either prevent or reduce side effects of treatments, or to manage certain side effects once they occur. You can develop side effects from the treatment and/or from the cancer itself. Tell your doctor when you notice a new symptom, and ask if any of these medications are appropriate for you.

Prescription Medications

Targeted Therapies

  • Bevacizumab
  • Cetuximab
  • Panitumumab

Antiemetics

  • Prochlorperazine
  • Ondansetron
  • Granisetron
  • Metoclopramide
  • Dronabinol

Corticosteroids

  • Dexamethasone
  • Prednisone

Opioids

  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Oxycodone

Blood Stem Cell Support Drugs

  • Filgrastim
  • Epoetin

Over-the-Counter Medications

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

Prescription Medications

Targeted Therapies

Common names include:

  • Bevacizumab
  • Cetuximab
  • Panitumumab

Targeted therapy uses medications to seek out cancer cells and destroy them. They can be used alone or with other chemotherapy drugs. Because they target cancer cells specifically, the side effects are not as severe as with chemotherapy drugs.

Possible side effects include:

For bevacizumab:

  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Bleeding
  • Headache
  • Mouth sores
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea

For cetuximab:

  • Skin rash
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea

For panitumumab:

  • Skin rash
  • Sensitivity to sunlight
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
Antiemetics

Common names include:

  • Prochlorperazine
  • Ondansetron
  • Granisetron
  • Metoclopramide
  • Dronabinol

Antiemetics are given to help treat nausea and vomiting that may be caused by chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery to treat cancer. Prochlorperazine can be taken by mouth, injection, or a suppository. Ondansetron and granisetron can be taken by mouth or as injections. Metoclopramide is usually given by injection. Dronabinol is a synthetic cannabinoid taken by mouth.

Possible side effects include:

For prochlorperazine:

  • Blurred vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Restlessness or need to keep moving
  • Shuffling walk
  • Stiffness of arms or legs
  • Trembling and shaking of hands and fingers

For ondansetron:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness

For granisetron:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness

For metoclopramide:

  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Restlessness
  • Increased risk of tardive dyskinesia, a serious neurological condition, in patients who take metoclopramide for longer than 3 months

For dronabinol:

  • Dose-related high, such as euphoria or elation
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Flush face
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Lightheadedness
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
Corticosteroids

Common names include:

  • Dexamethasone
  • Prednisone

Corticosteroids help reduce inflammation and relieve pain due to inflammation.

Possible side effects include:

  • Increased appetite
  • Indigestion
  • Nervousness or restlessness
Opioids

Common names include:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Oxycodone

Opioids act on the central nervous system to relieve pain. These drugs can be very effective however, opioids must be used with great caution because they can be mentally and/or physically addicting. If you are going to take one of these drugs for a long period of time, your doctor will closely monitor you.

The most common side effects of opioids include:

  • Lightheadedness, or feeling faint
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Constipation
Blood Stem Cell Support Drugs

Common names include:

  • Filgrastim
  • Epoetin

During cancer treatment, blood cells can be destroyed along with cancer cells. Filgrastim helps your bone marrow make new white blood cells, which help your body fight infection. Therefore, filgrastim helps to reduce your risk of infection. Epoetin helps your bone marrow make new red blood cells.

Both filgrastim and epoetin are given by injection in your doctor's office.

Possible side effects include:

For filgrastim:

  • Bone pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Skin rash or itching

For epoetin:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Injection site pain
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Blood clots

Over-the-Counter Medications

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Common names include:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

NSAIDs are used to relieve pain and inflammation.

Possible side effects include:

  • Stomach upset
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Headache

Special Considerations

If you are taking medications, follow these general guidelines:

  • Take the medication as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Ask what side effects could occur. Report them to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medication.
  • Plan ahead for refills if you need them.
  • Do not share your prescription medication with anyone.
  • Medications can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to your doctor if you are taking more than one medication, including over-the-counter products and supplements.

Revision Information

  • Colon cancer treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/colorectal/patient/colon-treatment-pdq#section/%5F135. Updated July 22, 2015. Accessed December 2, 2015.

  • Colorectal cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003096-pdf.pdf. Accessed December 2, 2015.

  • Colorectal cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 12, 2015. Accessed December 2, 2015.

  • Colorectal cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/tumors-of-the-gi-tract/colorectal-cancer. Updated July 2014. Accessed December 2, 2015.

  • Rectal cancer treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/colorectal/patient/rectal-treatment-pdq#section/%5F135. Updated June 30, 2015. Accessed December 2, 2015.