is a form of therapy that employs drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body in order to kill cancer cells. The side effects from the chemotherapy come from the fact that it destroys normal cells as well as the cancer cells.
The type of chemotherapy you receive will depend on the type and stage of your cancer. New combinations of chemotherapy are constantly being designed as new information is discovered. The most common chemotherapeutic drug combinations are:
(Amethopterin, Mexate, Folex), and
(l, 5-FU, Adrucil)—abbreviated CMFCyclophosphamide,
(Adriamycin), and fluorouracil—abbreviated CAFDoxorubicin (Adriamycin) and cyclophosphamide—abbreviated ACDoxorubicin (Adriamycin) and cyclophosphamide followed by
docetaxel concurrent with AC,
(Taxotere)—abbreviated TACDoxorubicin (Adriamycin), followed by CMFDocetaxel (Taxotere) and cyclophosphamide—abbreviated TCCyclophosphamide,
(Ellence), and fluorouracil with or without docetaxel
Chemotherapy is usually given by vein, but some forms can be given by mouth as well. Your oncologist will tell you how many cycles or courses of chemotherapy are best for you. Usually there are between 4-8 cycles when the chemotherapy is delivered on its own.
The side effects and amount of time required in the doctor’s office depend on the type of chemotherapy you receive, as well as how many cycles you receive and how often. The most common chemotherapy-associated side effects are:
Nausea and vomitingFatigue or tiredness sometimes as a result of suppression by the chemotherapeutic drugs of the blood forming cells in the bone marrowHair loss“Fogginess” or “chemo brain,” usually mild and inconvenient, but usually not serious or permanentLow blood cell counts (red cells, white cells, or platelets) that can lead to infection or bleeding
As a result of chemotherapy , you may experience premature
, with all the symptoms and effects (including loss of fertility) of “regular” menopause. Some chemotherapeutic drugs also may cause serious side effects later on, including damage to the heart muscle (adriamycin), and very rarely, the development of
much later on.
In addition to drugs that kill cancer cells (cytotoxic therapy), you may be given estrogen-blocking drugs, such as tamoxifen or the newer class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors (AIs). These drugs will produce symptoms of menopause (eg, hot flashes, night sweats) in many women. They may also produce a condition called “tumor flare” in patients with advanced cancer metastatic to bone, resulting in increased blood calcium. This may be a serious health threat that requires hospitalization.
Some patients also report such side effects as:
Voice change (which may be important to singers, actors, and others who use their voice in employment)DepressionHeadacheAllergic reactions
deep venous thrombosis
(clotting of the veins in the leg) can occur and can be life-threatening. There is also a reported increase in the risk of
in patients who take tamoxifen.
Breast cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
. Accessed January 27, 2006.
Detailed guide: breast cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
. Accessed January 27, 2006.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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