Anticancer drugs — chemotherapy — travel through the bloodstream to almost every area of the body. Drugs used to treat cancer may be given in different ways: some are given by mouth; others are injected into a muscle, a vein or an artery. Chemotherapy is most often given in cycles: a treatment period, followed by a rest period, then another treatment period, and so on.
Many of the side effects of chemotherapy have been reduced over the years because the drugs have been refined or drugs for the side effects are better used. The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the drugs given and the individual response of the patient. Chemotherapy commonly affects hair cells, blood-forming cells and cells lining the digestive tract. As a result, patients may have side effects such as hair loss, lowered blood counts, nausea or vomiting. Most side effects end after treatment is stopped.
To help quickly restore lowered white blood cell counts to normal levels (a condition known as neutropenia), a relatively new product, called Neupogen® may be administered to patients between chemotherapy cycles. A cautionary note: Amgen Inc., the maker of Neupogen®, recently became aware of the existence in the U.S. of a counterfeit drug product labeled as Neupogen® 300 mcg vials in ten- pack boxes. In cooperation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Amgen is informing patients, physicians, pharmacies and wholesalers about this serious health risk.
Loss of appetite can be a serious problem for women receiving radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Women who eat well are better able to withstand the side effects of treatment. So, nutrition is an important part of the treatment plan. Eating well means getting enough calories to prevent weight loss and having enough protein in the diet to build and repair skin, hair, muscles and organs. Many women say that eating several small meals throughout the day is easier than eating three large meals.
The side effects that patients have during all of these cancer therapies vary from person to person and may even be different from one treatment to the next. Your health care professional will try to plan treatment to keep problems to a minimum, and fortunately, most side effects are temporary. It's important to tell your health care professional about your reactions and side effects because he or she may be able to adjust treatments to help you feel better.
The drugs used most commonly to treat ovarian cancer are carboplatin and paclitaxol:
Taxol was approved in 1998 as a first-line treatment for advanced ovarian cancer. Taken from the bark of the Pacific yew tree, Taxol is usually given in combination with other anticancer drugs by way of intravenous infusion. Like most cancer drugs, Taxol has side effects that can be serious. Its most serious effect is damage to the bone marrow; the soft, sponge-like tissue in the center of large bones that produces the blood cells that fight infection. So, you may get infections more easily while taking this medicine. Stay away from crowds and people with colds, flu, or other infections. It is best to avoid drinking alcohol and taking any product that has aspirin in it while using this drug. In addition, you should talk to your doctor before having any vaccines (such as flu shot). You may also experience the following side effects with the use of this drug:
- loss of hair
- bleeding gums
- blood in stool or urine
- burning or tingling in hands or feet
- nausea and vomiting
- pain in joints or muscles
- skin rash or itching
- unusual bleeding or bruising