Chemotherapy is drug treatment given in pill, injection and intravenous forms to kill cancer cells.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is drug treatment given in pill, injection and intravenous forms to kill cancer cells. This may lead to shrinkage of the tumor, but chemotherapy is primarily aimed at preventing the cancer from spreading. Since chemotherapy can be harsh on the veins in your arm, most patients have a central venous catheter (Broviac/Hickman or Portacath) placed in a large vein in their chest through which the drugs are administered. Length of treatment depends on the type of cancer and what research studies have shown to be the best time periods.

Common side effects include fatigue, hair loss, mouth sores, low blood counts and fever.

Fatigue is very frustrating for our patients because it prevents them from working, helping with household chores, or doing activities they once enjoyed. Blood counts usually drop (nadir) seven to fourteen days after a chemotherapy treatment. Some patients develop fever and are susceptible to infection (neutropenia). Patients are usually admitted to the medical oncology service for close monitoring when they are neutropenic and receive intravenous antibiotics with possible blood transfusions (red cells, white cells or platelets).

Hair loss is traumatic for most of our patients. Loosing clumps of hair is physically annoying and overwhelming to look at. Some patients shave their head to avoid the sporadic itchy clumps. Many patients get wigs, others use hats or turbons, and many remain naturally bald. It is important to remember that the hair will grow back after completion of the chemotherapy.

We advise patients to talk with other patients receiving chemotherapy for only they know what the experience is truly like. It is very important to remember that each sarcoma has a personality of its own, behaving differently in each patient, as do the side effects of chemotherapy treatment.

Chemotherapy protocols vary in length of treatment. Most protocols have an outline (schema) of the treatment plan. Ask your oncologist for a copy so that you have an idea about the schedule for hospitalizations or outpatient clinic treatments.

An example of a protocol for bone cancer (osteosarcoma) is as follows: Combination Chemotherapy and Radiation: Large malignant soft tissue sarcomas greater than 8 centimeters in size are treated with both chemotherapy and radiation before they are surgically removed. This therapy is called the MAID protocol. Radiation is sandwiched in between cycles of chemotherapy to hopefully reduce the size of the tumor, cause death (necrosis) of tumor cells, and prevent spread of tumor cells (metastasis).