10 Common Chemo Drugs and What They Do

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The prospect of undergoing chemotherapy for cancer can be terrifying — especially when the drugs themselves have daunting, hard-to-pronounce names, and the same drug has a brand name and a chemical name. There are more than 100 different types of chemo drugs and some are prescribed jointly while others are only given alone. Why are there so many kinds, and how do your doctors know which one is right for you and your specific type of cancer?

We’re here to help clear that up. Chemotherapy works by targeting cells at specific points in the cell cycle. Since cancer cells form more quickly than normal cells, the cancerous ones will be more readily destroyed by chemo than normal cells, though some normal cells will be affected (which is what side effects are).

Usually, at least two or three chemo drugs are used in combination with each other when treating localized cancer, while only one is commonly used at a time for advanced stages. There is no drug or combination that’s considered “the best” — your doctors will discuss the most promising treatment plan for you based on your stage, potential side effects, how the drugs will interact with each other, and more.

We’ll list several of the most common types of chemo, and explain their effect on cancer cells and your body. Common side effects for any type of chemotherapy include low blood count and an increased risk of blood clots. In addition, women are advised not to get pregnant.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/Tawesit

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/Tawesit

10. Chemical: Cyclophosphamide / Brand: Cytoxan (C)

How it works:
Cytoxan is a type of alkylating agent that damages the DNA of cancer cells, making them unable to divide and causing cell death. It is typically administered after surgery (adjuvant) and other treatments, but can be given before (neoadjuvant) to reduce the size of advanced tumors before surgery. Most often it is used in combination with other chemo treatments, especially Adriamycin (AC) or Taxotere (ACT).

Types of breast cancer treated:
-Early stage: cancer hasn’t spread
-Locally advanced: cancer has spread to lymph nodes and other tissues in the chest or neck
-Metastatic: cancer has spread to other organs

Pill or IV:
Taken orally or intravenously.

Most common side effects:
Nausea and vomiting; mouth sores; hair loss; loss of appetite; bowel issues; irregular menstruation.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/ryanking999

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/ryanking999

Common combinations using Cytoxan:

  • AC: Adriamycin (A) & Cytoxan (C)
  • ACT: Adriamycin (A) & Cytoxan (C) followed by Taxol (T)
  • ACT: Adriamycin (A) & Cytoxan (C) followed by Taxotere (T)
  • TAC: Taxotere (T) & Adriamycin (A) and Cytoxan (C)
  • EC: Ellence (E) & Cytoxan (C)
  • CMF: Cytoxan (C) & Maxtrex (M) & 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)
  • E-CMF: Ellence (E) & Cytoxan (C) Maxtrex & (M) & 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)
  • FEC: 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) & Ellence (E) & Cytoxan (C)
  • FEC-T: 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) & Ellence (E) & Cytoxan (C) & Taxotere (T)

Click “NEXT” to learn about more popular chemo types.

C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.
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