Chemotherapy (chemo) is the use of drugs given into a vein or taken by mouth to treat cancer. These drugs enter the bloodstream and reach all areas of the body, making this treatment useful for cancer that has spread (metastasized) to other organs. Depending on the type and stage of sarcoma, chemotherapy may be given as the main treatment or as an adjuvant (addition) to surgery. Chemotherapy for soft tissue sarcoma generally uses a combination of several anti-cancer drugs.
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The most commonly used drugs are ifosfamide and doxorubicin (Adriamycin). Other drugs may be used as well, including cisplatin, dacarbazine, gemcitibine (Gemzar), methotrexate, paclitaxel (Taxol), vincristine. When several drugs are used together, the combination is given a shortened name such as: MAID (mesna, doxorubicin [Adriamycin], ifosfamide, and dacarbazine).
When ifosfamide is used, the drug mesna is also given. Mesna is not a chemo drug. It protects the bladder from the toxic effects of ifosfamide.
Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells but also damage some normal cells. Side effects depend on the type of drugs, the amount taken, and the length of treatment. Common chemo side effects include:
- nausea and vomiting,
- loss of appetite,
- loss of hair,
- mouth sores,
- low blood counts
Because chemotherapy can damage the blood-producing cells of the bone marrow, patients may have low blood cell counts. This can result in
- increased chance of infection (from a shortage of white blood cells),
- problems with bleeding or bruising (from a shortage of blood platelets),
- fatigue and weakness (from low red blood cell counts).
Most side effects disappear once treatment is stopped. Hair will grow back after treatment ends, although it may look different. There are remedies for many of the temporary side effects of chemotherapy. For example, anti-emetic drugs can be given to prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting.
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