Infusional 5 Fluorouracil (via continuous pump)
Your doctor has explained that you have colorectal cancer and has recommended treatment with chemotherapy.
The chemotherapy drug you are going to have is called 5 Fluorouracil (5FU).
This is given continuously via a flexible plastic tube will be inserted into either the vein in your elbow crease and threaded through the venous system so that it lies in the big vein that leads to the heart (PICC) line. Alternatively it is given via a Hickman line, which is inserted directly into the large vein, which leads to the heart through a small incision in the chest wall below the collar bone. This is normally done under a local anaesthetic and a separate information sheet is available to describe both procedures. The drug is administered using a pump usually called the CADD-PLUS pump. This is a portable battery operated pump worn on a belt around your waist. Cassettes of the chemotherapy are connected to the pump and are changed weekly by the nursing staff, as an out-patient.
You will have a blood test before starting chemotherapy and during treatment. If your blood count is low, chemotherapy may be delayed.
The side-effects described below will not affect
everyone. We have outlined those that you may experience during treatment. Your
clinic staff will usually work with you to keep your side-effects to a minimum.
It is important that you feel free to ask questions so that you understand what
is happening, what to do and what to expect. Occasionally people have rare
side-effects which are not expected or mentioned on this sheet. If
in doubt ask!
Nausea & sickness; This treatment does not normally cause any sickness but you may be given anti-sickness tablets to take home to take if required. Over the whole course of the chemotherapy, although you may not be physically sick your appetite may be reduced and you may loose weight.If your blood counts falls you may experience the following:
White Blood Cells (WBC) Shivering or shaking attacks of fever (flu like symptoms). If you feel hot or unwell check your temperature. A raised temperature indicates you have an infection which could be life threatening. A normal temperature is between 36oC and 37.2oC. If it is 38°C (100F) telephone the Hospital or cancer unit immediately and they will advise you. Do not take Paracetamol or Aspirin as this will bring your temperature down and mask the signs of infection. This is most likely to happen in the middle week (7-14 days) between cycles.
Haemoglobin (Hb) Tiredness, lethargy, breathlessness, dizziness (particularly on standing) and pale facial colour. Occasionally patients require a blood transfusion at some point during the whole course.
If you notice any bleeding, i.e. nose
bleeds, unexplained bleeding, bruising or persistent headaches contact the
Other advice on paracetamol; As mentioned above, if you have a temperature and feel unwell you may have an infection and may need treatment in hospital, we advise not to take paracetamol in this situation as it may mask your temperature, give false reassurance and delay you presenting to hospital for treatment. Taking paracetamol can otherwise be used with discretion. If for example you have a headache or a mild pain but otherwise feel well and your temperature is normal paracetamol can be used provided you check your temperature before each dose and allow a full six hours before each administration.
Contact to chicken pox; If you can't remember whether you've had Chicken Pox as a child and you come in contact with a person who as it or shingles you should contact your oncology team. They will arrange a blood test to find out if you are immune to chicken pox (the varcella virus). If not a series of injections can be administered to offer you temporary immunity
Fatigue; All chemotherapy can cause fatigue. As your treatment progresses you will experience this. You may find that gentle exercise such as a short walk each day (if you are not working) may help. Fatigue and malaise may last up to 2-3 months (or longer) after the end of chemotherapy.
Weight gain; Over the entire course of chemotherapy many patients complain of weight gain. This is caused by a combination of the steroids increasing the appetite, the fatigue causing lack of mobility and the mild nausea often encouraging to nibble rather than eating correct meals - In order to prevent this we recommend regular light exercise and be aware of your calorie intake.
Weight loss may also be experienced by some patients during their course of chemotherapy particularly if there is more advances disease or other medical problems, in these cases dietary advice should be sought.
mouth; You may have a sore
mouth after chemotherapy and it is important that you maintain good
oral hygiene. A soft, baby toothbrush may help and you may be given a mouthwash.
If you develop mouth ulcers
you should contact your clinic and they can prescribe special mouthwashes to
Hair loss; This chemotherapy may cause mild hair loss. It usually starts 3-4 weeks after the first course. You may also experience thinning and loss of eyelashes, eyebrows and other body hair. This is temporary and your hair will regrow after treatment, although it may at first be a different texture, very like a baby's hair. Some departments use a cold cap system to minimise hair loss. Your clinic nurse can arrange for you to have a wig before your treatment starts (NHS prescription charge, prices are approximately £55 for an acrylic wig, £140 for half real hair wig and £205 for a full real hair wig).
Fertility may be affected by chemotherapy, in both men and women. It is important to discuss fertility with your doctor before starting treatment. For pre-menopausal women, chemotherapy may affect your periods. They may become heavier, lighter or may stop. In some women this may be permanent causing menopausal symptoms. You should not become pregnant during chemotherapy, as chemotherapy will damage a growing baby. You should still take contraceptive precautions even if your periods have stopped, as you could still become pregnant. Men must also use a barrier contraceptive whilst receiving chemotherapy as sperm is damaged by chemotherapy.
Inform your doctor or nursing team if the palms of your hands or the soles of your feet become red and sore. You may be given tablets for this by your doctor.
If you experience pain in your shoulder, swelling of the arm and/or face and oozing, redness or soreness around the Hickman line exit site, contact your clinic.
Sensitive eyes; You may find your eyes become more sensitive to light and that they start "watering". If this occurs your clinic may prescribe you some eye drops.
Three types of damage can occur, listed in order of seriousness:
Increase risk of blood clots - during chemotherapy there is an increased risk of blood clots, most commonly in the legs (deep vein thrombosis) or more seriously to the lungs (pulmonary embolus). If you get unexplained swelling and discomfort in the calf report this to the oncology unit. Likewise if you start experiencing unexplained breathlessness, cough up any blood or have a pain in the chest particularly when you breath contact the clinic as soon as possible. To avoid clots its important to stay as active as possible and (exercise & chemotherapy) taking light walks two to three times a day and avoid sitting around for long periods of time. If you are required to sit (for example while receiving the chemotherapy drugs) try to move your legs and ankles regularly. Occasionally, if your doctor feels you are at high risk of developing clots you may be started on drugs to thin your blood during chemotherapy.
Sore eyes; The front of the eyes (cornea) can occasionally feel dry and sticky, especially first thing in the morning. This usually comes on later in the course and can cause some redness and discomfort. Eye drops such artificial tears can be bought over the counter or prescribed by your medical team.
Nails; The grow of the nails can be impaired by chemotherapy. The amount of damage can vary but in most case there will be some slight discolouration and indentation seen in ridges across the nail beds - a bit like the rings of a tree, each representing an individual chemotherapy cycle. Occasionally the damage can be more troublesome, causing pain and breakdown of the nail bed causing it to lift and separate, possibly even leading to a total loss of the nail. Eventually after chemotherapy has finished the nail will grow back normally.
Further general information Your doctors and specialist nurses are in an ideal position to give you relevant information on your disease and treatment as they know your individual circumstances. Cancerbackup has a help line (0808 800 1234) and a prize winning video available in English, Italian, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati & Hindi explaining Radiotherapy & Chemotherapy. Cancernet.co.uk has over 500 pages describing cancer, its management, practical tips and tool which patients, their carers and their doctors have found helpful during the cancer journey.