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Medications for Colorectal Cancer

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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 (Avastin)
  • Cetuximab (Erbitux)
  • Panitumumab (Vectibix)

Nausea Therapies

  • Prochlorperazine (Compazine)
  • Ondansetron (Zofran)
  • Granisetron (Kytril)
  • Metoclopramide (Octamide, Metoclopramide Intensol, Reglan)
  • Dronabinol (Marinol)

Corticosteroids

  • Dexamethasone
  • Prednisone

Opioids

  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Oxycodone

Blood Stem Cell Support Drugs

  • Filgrastim (Neupogen)
  • Epoetin (Epogen, Procrit)

Over-the-Counter Medications

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Bayer Select Ibuprofen, Dolgesic, Excedrin IB, Genpril, Haltran, Ibifon, Ibren, Ibu, Ibuprin, Ibuprohm, Medipren, Midol IB, Motrin, Nuprin, Q-Profen, Rufen, Trendar)
  • Naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprelan, Naprosyn)

Prescription Medications

Targeted Therapies

Common names include:

  • Bevacizumab (Avastin)
  • Cetuximab (Erbitux)
  • Panitumumab (Vectibix)

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
Nausea Therapies

Common names include:

  • Prochlorperazine (Compazine)
  • Ondansetron (Zofran)
  • Granisetron (Kytril)
  • Metoclopramide (Octamide, Metoclopramide Intensol, Reglan)
  • Dronabinol (Marinol)

Medications for nausea, also called anti-emetics, are given to help treat nausea and vomiting that may be caused by chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery to treat cancer. Prochlorperazine can be taken by mouth, injection, or a suppository. Ondansetron and granisetron can be taken orally 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
  • Dizziness
  • 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 three 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 (Neupogen)
  • Epoetin (Epogen, Procrit)

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 (Advil, Bayer Select Ibuprofen, Dolgesic, Excedrin IB, Genpril, Haltran, Ibifon, Ibren, Ibu, Ibuprin, Ibuprohm, Medipren, Midol IB, Motrin, Nuprin, Q-Profen, Rufen, Trendar)
  • Naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprelan, Naprosyn)

NSAIDs are used to relieve pain and inflammation.

Possible side effects include:

  • Stomach upset
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Headache

Special Considerations

Whenever you are taking a prescription medication, take the following precautions:

  • Take your medication as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Do not stop taking them without talking to your doctor.
  • Do not share them.
  • Know what the results and side effects. Report them to your doctor.
  • Some drugs can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist if you are taking more than one drug. This includes over-the-counter medication and herb or dietary supplements.
  • Plan ahead for refills so you don’t run out.

Revision Information

  • Colon cancer treatment. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/colon/Patient . Accessed May 14, 2013.

  • Colorectal cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003096-pdf.pdf . Updated January 17, 2013. Accessed May 14, 2013.

  • Colorectal cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated May 3, 2013. Accessed May 14, 2013.

  • Rectal cancer treatment. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/rectal/Patient . Accessed May 14, 2013.