Adriamycin (doxorubicin)

     Home  | Cope with Symptoms | Lifestyle and cancer  | TreatmentsContact us

Google

Receive our monthly lifestyle research newsletter
Email:  

Your doctor has explained that you have cancer and has recommended treatment with chemotherapy drugs called adriamycin. This treatment is given as slow injection into a vein in your arm as an outpatient, usually once every three weeks but can be more frequently depending on the regimen and combination with other drugs. 

Before each course of adriamycin chemotherapy you will see a doctor or specialist nurse and have a blood test. If your blood count is low then the chemotherapy cycle may be delayed a few days, the dose reduced or growth factors (white cell boosters) given to increase the white cells before the next cycle. During this consultation you will be asked about side effects and additional measures may be recommended. We have outlined below the side-effects that you may experience during treatment - some of these may be helped by general lifestyle measures. If a symptom is troublesome ask the nurse for the specific information sheet or download from this site Occasionally people have rare side-effects which are not expected or mentioned on this sheet.  It is important that you feel free to ask questions so that you understand what to expect and what to do. If in doubt please ask!

Side effects 

Nausea & sickness; Despite the anti-sickness medication given with your chemotherapy and for a few days afterwards, some nausea may occur. This is usually associated with reduced appetite and in some cases vomiting. If marked you should contact the cancer unit for help as its important you do not get dehydrated. Some cancer units prescribe anti-sickness suppository to take home and these should be used if sickness occurs. In general, anti-sickness tablets should be taken regularly and are usually successful, but if you do have problems, different  tablets can be prescribed for the next cycle. Some self help tips may also be useful.

If your blood counts falls you may experience the following:

Other advice on paracetamol; As mentioned above, if you have a temperature and feel unwell you may have an infection and may need treatment in hospital, we advise not to take paracetamol in this situation as it may mask your temperature, give false reassurance and delay you presenting to hospital for treatment. Taking paracetamol can otherwise be used with discretion. If for example you have a headache or a mild pain but otherwise feel well and your temperature is normal paracetamol can be used provided you check your temperature before each dose and allow a full six hours before each administration.

Contact to chicken pox; If you can't remember whether you've had Chicken Pox as a child and you come in contact with a person who has it or shingles you should contact your oncology team. They will arrange a blood test to find out if you are immune to chicken pox (the varcella virus). If not a series of injections can be administered to offer you temporary immunity.

Fatigue All chemotherapy can cause fatigue. As your treatment progresses you will experience this. You may find that gentle exercise such as a short walk each day (if you are not working) may help.  Fatigue and malaise may last up to 2-3 months (or longer) after the end of chemotherapy. 

Weight gain; Over the entire course of chemotherapy many patients complain of weight gain. This is caused by a combination of the steroids increasing the appetite, the fatigue causing lack of mobility and the mild nausea often encouraging to nibble rather than eating correct meals - In order to prevent this we recommend regular light exercise and be aware of your calorie intake.

Weight loss may also be experienced by some patients during their course of chemotherapy particularly if there is more advances disease or other medical problems, in these cases dietary advice should be sought.

Sore mouth; You may have a sore mouth after chemotherapy and it is important that you maintain good oral hygiene. A soft, baby toothbrush may help and you may be given a mouthwash. If you develop mouth ulcers you should contact your clinic and they can prescribe special mouthwashes to help. 

Hair loss; This chemotherapy does cause hair loss. It usually starts 3-4 weeks after the first course and may be lost completely. You may also experience thinning and loss of eyelashes, eyebrows and other body hair. This is temporary and your hair will regrow after treatment, although it may at first be a different texture, very like a baby's hair. Some departments use a cold cap system to minimise hair loss. Your clinic nurse can arrange for you to have a wig before your treatment starts (NHS prescription charge, prices are approximately 55 for an acrylic wig, 140 for half real hair wig and  205 for a full real hair wig).  

Premature menopause; For pre-menopausal women, chemotherapy may affect your periods. They may become heavier, lighter or may stop. In some women this may be permanent causing menopausal symptoms.   You should not become pregnant during chemotherapy, as chemotherapy will damage a growing baby. You should still take contraceptive precautions even if your periods have stopped, as you could still become pregnant. 

Constipation: Some patients experience constipation which may be due to the anti-sickness tablets. You should drink plenty of fluids, eat a high fibre diet and take gentle exercise. If this is severe you should contact your clinic or GP.

Steroids; This chemotherapy is given with steroids (e.g. Dexamethasone) to help prevent sickness. Steroids have some side effects, including fluid retention, weight gain, wakefulness and sometimes agitation. If you suffer from  indigestion you may be given tablets to prevent this. If patients are prone to "spots" or acne this can be made worse. Likewise they can temporarily upset diabetes or high blood pressure.

Heart damage; Very rarely Adriamycin can damage the heart. A heart (cardiac) function test may be performed before or during chemotherapy. The risks are very small provided the recommended maximum dose of Adriamycin is not exceeded. To ease the strain on the heart, if you smoke, it is strongly recommended that you stop smoking.  

Red urine; The Adriamycin injection is coloured red. You may notice that the first time you pass urine after chemotherapy that it is coloured red - this is normal.

Your veins Three types of damage can occur, listed in order of seriousness:

Increase risk of blood clots - during chemotherapy there is an increased risk of blood clots, most commonly in the legs (deep vein thrombosis) or more seriously to the lungs (pulmonary embolus). If you get unexplained swelling and discomfort in the calf report this to the oncology unit. Likewise if you start experiencing unexplained breathlessness, cough up any blood or have a pain in the chest particularly when you breath contact the clinic as soon as possible. To avoid clots its important to stay as active as possible and (exercise & chemotherapy) taking light walks two to three times a day and avoid sitting around for long periods of time. If you are required to sit (for example while receiving the chemotherapy drugs) try to move your legs and ankles regularly. Occasionally, if your doctor feels you are at high risk of developing clots you may be started on drugs to thin your blood during chemotherapy. 

Sore eyes; The front of the eyes (cornea) can occasionally feel dry and sticky, especially first thing in the morning. This usually comes on later in the course and can cause some redness and discomfort. Eye drops such artificial tears can be bought over the counter or prescribed by your medical team. 

Nails; The grow of the nails can be impaired by chemotherapy. The amount of damage can vary but in most case there will be some slight discolouration and indentation seen in ridges across the nail beds - a bit like the rings of a tree, each representing an individual chemotherapy cycle. Occasionally the damage can be more troublesome, causing pain and breakdown of the nail bed causing it to lift and separate, possibly even leading to a total loss of the nail. Eventually after chemotherapy has finished the nail will grow back normally.

 

Helpful resources and links

Cancernet-UK: What is cancerAbout specific cancers; Breast | Prostate | Bowel.  About cancer treatments; Chemotherapy | Radiotherapy | Hormones | Biological agents | Complementary.  Lifestyle advice; Exercise | Diet | Smoking | Sunbathing | Alcohol.  Cope with symptomsTraveling | Insurance  | Tests for cancer | Clinical trials. ...site map
Micro-nutrient testing Empower yourself to make dietary choices specific to your personal make up. This Cancer Risk Nutritional Profile, analyses your blood profile and recommends specific dietary and supplement advice to ensure you have the best possible nutritional status to fight cancer an aid recovery from treatments....read more
Download a free chapter describing how to avoid cancer forming chemicals (Carcinogens) in our diet and environments  from the new edition of the best selling evidence based book    "Lifestyle after Cancer - the facts"
Make a will (or living will Cancernet has teamed up with a leading UK lawyer to drive down the cost of making a solicitor checked will.  This reliable, easy to use, online resource ensures your assets (money, property, jewellery, etc) go to the person you want and not those you least want such as the taxman. Cancernet-glossLegal wills start from 39....read more
Protect your lips during chemotherapy There is evidence that natural oil based creams are better than petroleum based creams. natureMedical lip balm has been specifically design to soothe and moisturise the lips during and after chemotherapy or after sun exposure. It only contains only natural waxes and essential oils selected for their anti-inflammatory and DNA stabilizing properties...read more/order
Protect your nails during chemotherapy. Nails can become painful and disfigured during and after chemotherapy. We describe the latest nail care guidelines and  number of useful tips to keep them healthy, including cooling and moisturizing ...read more 
Poems and cancer   Cancer is emotional and stressful time not only for the patients but friends and relatives. This emotional can inspire reflection, sentiment and creative writing and poetry. Hundreds of poems have been kindly submitted by users of cancernet. Caution: take a tissue some of these are real emotional bombshells!.. Read poems or...submit your own poem  
Look after your family after cancer - A diagnosis of cancer can cause a strain on family harmony. With emotions running high its not a good time to be upset further by destructive arguments. This practical little book has identified the situations where arguments are most likely to happen and provides simple tips to navigate around them...download 1.99
Lifestyle and cancer - the facts. This 2011, edition with a foreword from Paula Radcliffe has been extensively re-written with evidence from the latest research from around the world which demonstrates how diet, exercise and lifestyle changes can; help avoid cancer (read chapter 9 free), cope with treatments side effects; slow the rate of progression of cancer and help prevent  relapse.  This comprehensive essential lifestyle guidebook can be ordered online (8.95), or downloaded via kindle
Prepared for cancer treatments. Patients and professionals, teamed up with Sue Lawley to produce this 21 minute film which explains chemotherapy & radiotherapy while you watch patients, describing their experiences, side effects and methods to alleviate them. Awarded the NHS communication prize ...  read more / order individually or in bulk for your oncology department 
Keep-healthy.com Practical evidence based advice on healthy living including ways to naturally reduce cholesterol, reduce blood pressure maintain a healthy weight and level of fitness. Includes advice on supplements and other useful products...link
Support groups and self help organisations throughout the UK and internationally. Links to Asian support organisations; Read patient stories, poems and links to the Cancer active website addressing a wide range of complementary issues related to cancer and their a quarterly magazine (ICON)..  submit a link to your group

Site map  | About us | Glossary Contact us | Disclaimer | Our sponsors | Advertise on Cancernet