Immunotherapy Side Effect: Colitis
What do you need to know about side effects of immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that works with your body’s immune system to weaken or kill cancer cells. Just as immunotherapy works differently than chemotherapy, there are different side effects associated with these medications. Some side effects are common and mild, while some side effects can be severe or even life-threatening.
Side effects can appear at any time during the course of your treatment. Side effects can start shortly after starting immunotherapy treatment, at any time during treatment, or even after treatment is complete. Keep in mind that no matter where your cancer originated, side effects can affect most parts of your body. It is also important to discuss with your care team any history of immune disorders, as these can make you more at risk of developing side effects due to immunotherapy.
What is colitis?
Colitis is inflammation of the colon. The colon isthe longest portion of the large intestine, also known as the large bowel. The colon connects to the rectum, and finally ends with the anus. When this part of the large intestine becomes inflamed or swollen, it is called colitis. Colitis can be caused by bacterial infections, viruses, and autoimmune disorders. It can also be a side effect of immunotherapy medications. These medications work by stimulating your body’s immune system. Sometimes your immune system can attack normal, noncancerous parts of your body, such as your colon (colitis). Colitis can be severe or life-threatening and can happen at any time during treatment or even after treatment has ended.
What are symptoms of colitis?
Colitis can cause:
- Diarrhea or more frequent bowel movements than usual.
- Blood or mucus in your stool.
- Stools that are black, tarry, or sticky.
- Severe pain, tenderness and cramping in your abdomen or stomach area.
- Distended abdomen or feeling “bloated”.
How is colitis treated?
Early detection and treatment of colitis is important. Many side effects of immunotherapy are treatable, including colitis, but it is important to notify your provider immediately of any changes in how you are feeling. Treatment of colitis related to immunotherapy medicines depends on how serious of a reaction you have. Your provider may continue to monitor you closely without any changes in treatment, or you might be prescribed corticosteroids or other medications to help manage your colon problems. If the reaction is severe, your treatment may be held or discontinued.
When should you contact your care team?
If you are taking any immunotherapy medication, you should contact your care team as soon as you have any changes in how you are feeling. You should also make sure that any provider involved in your care is aware that you are taking an immunotherapy medication, as this can change the course of your treatment.
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