How To Decide Which Chemotherapy, If Any, Is For Me
If your doctor wants you to have chemo, it means something can be done to try to control, or maybe even cure, your cancer.
All types of cancer have one thing in common: they involve abnormal cells growing out of control. Otherwise, everyone's cancer is different. So is the chemotherapy that is given.
In some cases, the best choice of doses and schedules for giving each drug are relatively clear, and most oncologists would recommend the same treatment. In other cases, less may be known about the single best way to treat people with certain types and stages of cancer. In these situations different cancer doctors might choose different drug combinations with different schedules.
When choosing which drugs to use for a chemotherapy regimen, American Cancer Society suggests considering the following factors::
- The type of cancer
- The stage of the cancer (how far it has spread)
- The patient's age
- The patient's general state of health
- Other serious health problems (such as heart, liver, or kidney diseases)
- Other types of anti-cancer treatments given in the past
- Side effects
- Doctors try to give chemotherapy at levels high enough to cure or control the cancer, while keeping side effects at a minimum. They also try to avoid drugs with similar and additive side effects.
- Different drugs may have different side effects, so it is often better to use moderate doses of 2 drugs that will cause bearable side effects, rather than very high doses of a single drug that might cause severe side effects and maybe permanent damage to an important organ. But, there are important exceptions to this rule, and a single chemotherapy drug may be the best option for some people with certain types of cancer.
- Drug interactions
- In addition to considering how to best combine 2 or more chemotherapy drugs, doctors must also consider potential interactions between chemotherapy drugs and other medications, including vitamins and non-prescription medicines. In some cases, these interactions may make side effects worse. In others, they may interfere with the effectiveness of the chemotherapy.
- For example, platelets are the blood cells that cause blood to clot and prevent bleeding. Many chemotherapy drugs temporarily slow down the bone marrow's production of platelets. Taking aspirin or other related drugs can also weaken blood platelets. This is not a problem for healthy people with normal platelet counts. But for people with low platelet counts due to chemotherapy, this combination may put the patient at risk of a serious bleeding problem.
- Information published in medical journals and textbooks describing the outcomes of similar patients treated with chemotherapy.
- For questions to ask before agreeing to chemotherapy treatment, click here.
- It is important that you tell your doctor about all medicines you are taking, including vitamins, herbal or dietary supplements, and non-prescription medicines.
- We provide a Treatment Evaluator tool to help you decide which treatment is best for you according to your personal preferences.