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Lung Cancer Q&A: What Are The Long-Term Side Effects of Chemo?

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Published on February 28, 2019

Patient Power community member Wendy wants to know more about potential long-term damage from lung cancer chemotherapy. Noted lung cancer expert Dr. Jhanelle Gray, from the Moffitt Cancer Center, responds by explaining how chemo can affect a patient’s blood counts, specific types of blood cells to monitor over time and what doctors can do to help lessen the treatment side effect burden.

This is a Patient Empowerment Network program produced by Patient Power, in partnership with Moffitt Cancer Center. We thank AbbVie, Inc., Celgene Corporation, Foundation Medicine, and Novartis for their support.

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Transcript | Lung Cancer Q&A: What Are the Long-Term Side Effects of Chemo?

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That's how you’ll get care that's most appropriate for you.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Andrew Schorr:                     

Here’s a question we got in from Wendy. So, it’s a little technical, but she says, “I’m currently keeping my stage four non-small cell adenocarcinoma at bay with monthly maintenance infusions of pemetrexed (Alimta).” Did I get that?

Dr. Gray:                    

Yes. Absolutely.

Andrew Schorr:                     

“I was diagnosed in August of 2015. Nothing visible on PET scans, but the chemo’s been prescribed to keep the cancer reappearing.” And her concern is the long-term damage, she wonders, of getting chemo infusions over a long time. She says, “What could be the downside of chemo over a long term?” Dr. Gray?

Dr. Gray:                    

Yeah. So, one of the things that we—well, congratulations. I’m glad that you’re doing so well. That’s really inspiring to hear. And I think that speaks to the fact that there are patients and cancers out there that respond to chemotherapy and I think that we should still keep that in mind.

The long-term side effects that we generally worry about with chemotherapy are how they affect your blood counts. And by blood counts, I’m talking about your bone marrow. So, your red blood cell counts. So, your hemoglobin and your hematocrit. Your white blood cell counts. Your leukocytes. Your neutrophils. Things that help you fight bacterial infections, viruses. And then your platelet counts. These really help with your clotting. So, if you cut yourself.

Pemetrexed, in particular one of the things that we’ve noted when you keep receiving this treatment in particular over time is that the anemia seems—can sometimes be a rate limiting step. So, I’d definitely keep an eye on your hemoglobin and hematocrit.

But I’ve had patients on these maintenance therapy agents for many years. A lot of times what I will do to lessen the burden for the patients. Normally the drug is infused as an IV infusion over ten minutes every three weeks. I will go to once every four weeks so that you’re only coming in once a month for a treatment to add more to quality of life. And then I’ll start increasing the frequency of the scans to less frequent. So, maybe quarterly you’ll get a scan instead of every six weeks. So, hopefully all these scans can help lessen the burden of the infusion and also help to improve quality of life at the end of the day. But I would certainly be careful of watching the blood counts within the study.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.