Anticancer drugs are taken intravenously or occasionally orally and circulate throughout the bloodstream. Chemotherapy is usually administered in an outpatient setting and in regular cycles (that is, at regular intervals and at the same doses) for several months, but rarely given for more than eight cycles. A wide variety of chemotherapy drugs are used for the treatment of lung cancer. In 2000, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) released treatment guidelines for non-small cell lung cancer that recommend that at least one of the drugs be either carboplatin (Paraplatin) or cisplatin (Platinol).
The other most commonly used drugs are docetaxel (Taxotere) and paclitaxel (Taxol), vinorelbine (Navelbine), vinblastine and gemcitabine (Gemzar). Patients with small cell cancer are usually treated with cisplatin plus etoposide (VePesid) or irinotecan (Camptosar). These drugs and others are used in a variety of combinations. Because they reach all the parts of your body, they also affect normal cancer cells.
Chemotherapy can be used to attempt to cure the cancer, slow its growth, keep it from spreading or relieve symptoms. Even if chemotherapy does not cure the disease, studies have consistently shown that it can help lung cancer patients live longer and more comfortably. Side effects vary greatly. The most common include nausea and vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, susceptibility to infection, and/or constipation. Your health care professional can help you manage these side effects but you must be sure to communicate how you feel.