Adriamycin Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

Overview

Chemotherapy is a kind of cancer treatment that uses medications to destroy cancer cells. Adriamycin, the brand name for the drug doxorubicin, is a chemotherapeutic drug commonly used in the treatment of breast cancer. It is typically combined with other drugs in various chemotherapy regimens for breast cancer to increase the effectiveness of the medications.

Function

Although Adriamycin is used in treating breast cancer, it is also used to treat bladder, head and neck, liver, lung and pancreatic cancer, among others. The drug is given intravenously either over a period of time or as a continuous infusion, according to Chemocare.com. Dosing with Adriamycin depends on several factors, like your height and weight, your general health and the kind of cancer being treated.

Features

Adriamycin is a kind of chemotherapy drug that is part of the class of drugs called anthracyclines, or anthracycline antibiotics, as the American Cancer Society describes it. Anthracyclines are also part of a larger group of drugs known as antitumor antibiotics. These drugs slow down and eventually stop cancer cells from dividing and growing, and are derived from products made by the fungus known as Streptomyces.

Side Effects

Common side effects of this drug can include a lowered white and red blood cell count, which can lead to a higher risk of infections and anemia; hair loss over the entire body; mouth sores; reddish urine; soreness where the drug was given; nausea and vomiting; and darkening of the skin on the hands and nail beds.

Considerations

In order to minimize possible side effects of Adriamycin, there are several things you can do. Frequent hand washing, anti-nausea medications, adequate rest, eating small meals throughout the day and staying hydrated can all lessen your chances of infection and nausea. Chemocare.com recommends using a soft toothbrush and rinsing three times a day with 1 tsp. of baking soda in 8 oz. of water to prevent mouth sores. Telling your health care team about any medications you take, including vitamins, supplements and over-the-counter drugs can help lessen your chances of adverse drug interactions.

Warning

Adriamycin can injure your heart and eventually cause congestive heart failure; there is a lifetime limit to how much of the medicine can be given. Before treatment starts, your heart function will be tested, and will continue to be monitored throughout treatment. Heart problems can appear months or years after treatment with this drug, so it is important to tell your health care providers about your treatment with Adriamycin.

About this Author

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and women’s studies, Jaime Herndon pursued a Master of Science in clinical health psychology, and recently completed her M.P.H. in maternal-child health from UNC. Her interests include women’s cancers, pediatric oncology, and women’s health.