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Complications from radiation?

Posts: 2
Joined: Apr 2006

Hello all. My mom was recently diagnosed with colorectal cancer, has completed surgery, and has now moved on to radiation. However, her first meeting with the oncologist scared her profoundly. He said that the radiation could possibly permenantly damage her bladder and her small intestines, and basically leave her an invalid. He made the cure sound worse than the disease and now she is considering not having the radiation at all. All the web resources I have visited have not listed such serious complications (although I realize everyone is different). Can anyone help me by telling me their experiences with radiation? Has anyone seriously regretted it? Has it decreased your quality of life? Thanks to anyone who can give me some insight on this I can pass on to my mom.


KathiM's picture
Posts: 8077
Joined: Aug 2005

A few questions...where was the cancer? What stage? What was removed during surgery?
I had pre-surgical radiation on a tumor, first rectal fold. To be honest, I was VERY lucky...it blew away the tumor...still did the surgery, but yeah, I had a very positive outcome. The effects during were not real pleasant, but none of the reactions were permanent.
Shame on the ONCOLOGIST for painting such doom and gloom...mine left the 'damage' talk to the radiologist...and NEVER was the word INVALID said there....do you like this guy? Is there someone else? What about other treatments?
The CANCER changed my quality of life, and the rest was just fallout from the fight, as far as I am concerned. I gave it my best fight, and have no regrets. I am going on 1 1/2 years survival, original estimate:8 months!
Please keep us posted, and special hugs to your mom.
Hugs, Kathi

Posts: 2
Joined: Apr 2006

Hi Kathi. Thanks for your reply. Hopefully I can reach my mom before her next appointment this morning and give her the info. It's nice to hear it from a survivor. I'm not exactly sure of the stage -- 2 I think (it had invaded the wall of the colon and 1 lymph node was infected out of 5). The tumour was TOTALLY removed during surgery, thank god. It was pretty low - she has a permenant colostomy, since they couldn't leave enough to re-attach. I myself have not met this oncologist, but my mom has the impression that she has to go with this guy, since the longer she waits (ie. to find someone else) the worse her chances of survival are. I don't think that's entirely true though. Apparently, the guys at this particular hospital are known for their LACK of bedside manner! So, she would likely have to go to a different hospital.

Again, thanks for the info. Congratulations on your positive outcome! I am constantly amazed by the inner strength of people on this site.


Posts: 78
Joined: Jan 2005

My husband is undergoing pelvic radiation right now for a recurrence to the pre-sacral space. He is starting week 5 of 7 today, and he has not really had any problems so far. The original plan was to do 5 weeks of pelvic and then cone in to the pre-sacral space the last 2 weeks so this may be his last week of the full pelvic.

His radiation onc. insisted that he be on chemo to increase the effectiveness of the radiation so he is taking a light dose of Xeloda (1000mg/day). That has caused some nausea, but we went last week and got some Zofran and it has really helped that. As far as the radiation, he is tired, weak, and sleeps a little more. One night he had a severe pain in his right butt cheek which the Dr. said was the sciatic nerve (inflammation) but it has not happened again. He had a day or two of burning on urination but even that has gone away. So far no diarrhea that they had almost guaranteed. In fact, he is having a little more problem with constipation.

I was terrified of radiation, but so far so good. Just make sure that you go to a top notch facility for the radiation. We are driving an hour each way, but I feel it is well worth it.


kerry's picture
Posts: 1317
Joined: Jan 2003

Hi Sarah,

I finished my 6 weeks of radiation 3 weeks ago. I had to read the "warnings" for possible complications, but never did my doctor(s)talk negative. Complications do happen, but are rare and they (docs) have to make us aware of things that can happen. I am doing fine, so far, I have some aching in my tummy, but the doctor said that was normal following the type of radiation I had.

I have not regretted any of my treatments. My quality of life if great and I would do it all again, if it helped save or extend my life.

I wish your Mom the best.


Posts: 1961
Joined: Aug 2003

Hi Sarah,
Like your mom, I had a very low rectal tumour (and ended up with a permanent colostomy). I had radiation before surgery (actually chemoradiation), then surgery, then more chemo (I was Stage IIIb).
The only definite permanent side effect I had from the radiation was that it 'fried' my ovaries and put me into instant/early menopause (I was 44). Not a big deal for me -- I had had my kids. I have had some very minor urinary changes since my treatment -- but that could have been due to the surgery (and/or the radiation). I was told that many people who have had radiation are unable to do irrigation (for the colostomy) -- but I have been able to do so successfully. So, no major intestinal damage. I do understand that radiation CAN cause some permanent damage -- and of course our docs have to warn us of all possible side effects. But, in my case, nothing major. Do I have any regrets? Absolutely not! I believe radiation is part of what saved my life. Have you been able to find out much about the radiation procedures? I understand that these days the field of radiation can be both carefully planned and carefully controlled, using various types of computerized planning. Sending best wishes to you and your mom and please don't hesitate to ask if I can supply any other information.

2bhealed's picture
Posts: 2085
Joined: Dec 2001

Hi Sarah,

If the tumor was removed do you know WHY radiation is being advised? Is it really necessary?

Remember, no treatment HAS to be done. Your mother has choices and can always go for 2nd and 3rd opinions.

Personally I think it's a good thing that the oncologist was blunt with her about how dangerous the treatment can be. It's serious stuff and she should be told of possible outcomes. I am amazed daily reading on these boards at what horrible things that chemo patients have to endure due to their treatments.

I was more scared of the treatments than the cancer in my case! I did not want to do any chemo so I didn't!

I was Stage 3 lymph positive and adjuvant chemo was prescribed. The tumor was removed and they said that since the lymph was involved then there could be cancer in other areas of my body, but they wouldn't know if the chemo was working or not.

After seeing what chemo did to my sister I said No Thanks and went about seeking out alternatives. I have remained cancer free for almost 5 years now. There are no guarantees that I will be cancer free forever and won't someday die from this, but I can tell you that I surely have had a wonderful last 5 years of great health!

and guess what....I do not fear secondary cancers or luekemia from chemo or kidney and heart damage nor do I suffer from peripheral neuropathy or mouth sores nor have I ever been hospitalized for dehydration or diarrhea. And I surely didn't have my bladder damaged or left an invalid! Yikes!

So though I cannot help you in the radiation department, I can tell you that I have NO regrets for following a different path that was not the "normal" path.

And my quality of life has increased much as has my energy from juicing and diet changes.

One big thing to note: Cancer feeds on sugar so watching what you eat is very important....no whites, no sugar, no alcohol, no processed foods etc.

Oh, and by the way, my surgeon told me that chemo would kill me so talk about bedside manner!! haha I actually LOVE my surgeon and my oncologist! But that's another story....

peace, emily

Posts: 1560
Joined: May 2006

Hi Sarah,
I agree with Emily. Why do they want to do radiation if they removed the tumor? Radiation is used to shrink the tumor before the surgery. After the surgery they use chemotherapy. So, why radiation now after the surgery? I think you need to ask more questions.

Best wishes, Eleonora

nanuk's picture
Posts: 1362
Joined: Dec 2003

If the cancer is sstill there (Microscopicly the rdiation may or may not get iit. In my case, two of the little buggars too a ride to the lungs while thay were radiating the pelvis. All it takes is one that can't be seen... Bud

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