Your treatment for gastrointestinal cancer may cause temporary side effects or long-term changes to the way you eat. At Sylvester, our caring teams help you manage these side effects so you can enjoy a better quality of life.
Surgery Side Effect Treatment
Many survivors of gastrointestinal cancer have undergone some sort of surgery during their treatment. Surgery can cause many different side effects.
Surgical treatment for GI cancers often involves removing part of the digestive tract. Your surgery may affect how your body is able to digest food. You may experience problems with diarrhea, constipation, nausea, or heartburn after surgery. Your doctor may prescribe medicines that can help you avoid these side effects.
The right diet and eating habits can also help you better digest food. Changes to your diet may be temporary or long-term. Your doctor will explain what changes you’ll need to make to your diet and can refer you to a registered dietitian for help.
If you had surgery on your esophagus, you may have trouble swallowing after treatment, called dysphagia. Speech pathologists at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center can help you learn new strategies for swallowing, such as avoiding certain foods, chewing thoroughly, or turning your head a certain way to swallow. They can also help you improve your swallowing abilities with exercises.
You may experience pain for a few days or weeks after surgery, depending on if you had a minimally invasive surgery or an open surgery. Your doctor can help you manage this pain with medicine or other alternative options if available.
You should always inform your doctor if your pain gets worse or if your pain returns weeks or months after surgery.
Chemotherapy Side Effect Treatment
Certain types of chemotherapy used in gastrointestinal cancer treatment may cause peripheral neuropathy (pain or numbness in the hands or feet). Once your treatment is complete, this side effect should begin to go away. However, it can take months to return to feeling normal. If you have severe neuropathy, your doctor may recommend medicine or physical therapy to help reduce your symptoms. Acupuncture may also help improve neuropathy symptoms.
You may also continue to experience fatigue for a few months after chemotherapy treatment is over. Eating well and participating in light exercise may help you have more energy.
Some patients may also experience trouble thinking or remembering, a side effect called “chemo brain.” It’s unclear what causes these cognitive issues, but they should improve over time after treatment is ended. In the meantime, you can work with a neuropsychologist to improve concentration and memory.
Psychosocial Side Effects
A gastrointestinal cancer diagnosis can change the way you feel about yourself and your body. It’s common to face emotional difficulties both during and after treatment. You may feel tired or frustrated with side effects or feel worried that your cancer will return. Difficulty concentrating, loss of interest in activities that you previously liked, loss of motivation and withdrawing from family and friends are all common after cancer treatment and can be signs of depression.
At Sylvester, we offer many support groups to help you meet others who understand your experience and can give you advice. We can also help you connect with national organizations that support patients with your specific type of cancer. These support groups are a chance for you to voice your challenges and fears in a safe, caring environment.
Your oncologist may also recommend that you see a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in caring for patients after cancer treatment. These therapists can help you improve your mental health after treatment.