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Cancer Genetics

Terminal Colon Cancer Dagnosis

09/09/1999

Question:

My cousin was told she has two months to live. Her colon cancer has spread to her liver. I have noticed that her eyes are yellow and her abdomen looks distended. What is left to do medically if chemo did not work?

Answer:

There are no easy answers to your question. Yellow eyes (and yellowish skin) are caused because the liver is no longer doing its job properly. Her distended abdomen is probably due to fluid ("ascites") which is also caused because of the liver problems.

The appropriate medical things to do are all related to relieving suffering. If the liver problems are caused by only one or two areas of cancer spread, some surgeons would perform surgery to remove those areas. If there are more areas involved, most surgeons would not recommend any surgery. Occasionally surgery is necessary if the cancer spread threatens to block the intestinal track so that food and liquids are unable to pass through.

Another area of suffering which can be helped is to provide good pain management. Many physicians are afraid to treat cancer pain adequately. An individual whose pain is controlled has a much better view of themselves and their existence.

Finally, a person may have suffering of the "self" and have a great deal of emotional pain. The distress goes beyond physical pain and may involve a person`s psychosocial, spiritual, and cultural existence. Modern medicine has not done a good job with this area of suffering but other people may be able to help.

Most regions have a hospice program that may be able to help with both appropriate pain management and with the emotional pain. The website listed below is a link to multiple web sites which have been screened for their quality.

For more information:

Go to the Cancer Genetics health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Judith A Westman, MD Judith A Westman, MD
Associate Professor, Clinical Internal Medicine, Pediatrics and Medical Biochemistry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University