Cancer drugs are often a part of cancer treatment. If your treatment plan at Miami Cancer Institute at Baptist Health South Florida includes cancer drugs, a team of specialists is here to help you understand what to expect and provide compassionate support through it all. Our oncologists have access to traditional cancer drugs as well as new innovative therapies through our clinical trials program. Many specialists work together to ensure you receive the right combination of medicines to effectively treat your specific type of cancer. Before prescribing a drug or combination of drugs, your oncology care team will carefully consider the type and stage of your cancer, your overall health, and your wishes for your care.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses strong medicines to destroy or control the growth of cancer cells. It is one of the most common treatments for cancer and may be used alone or in combination with other cancer drugs or treatments.

Your cancer care team at the Institute may recommend chemotherapy to:

  • Shrink tumors before curative surgery or radiation therapy.
  • Destroy any cancer cells that remain after surgery or radiation.
  • Treat cancer that has spread to other areas in the body.
  • Shrink a tumor that is causing pain or other problems.

You may receive chemotherapy over a number of weeks through IV therapy in our outpatient care center. IV therapy – also called infusion therapy – sends medicines like chemotherapy directly into a vein through a catheter (thin tube). We do all we can to make your infusion therapy sessions comfortable. The number of sessions you need depends on the type of cancer you have and the type of chemotherapy administered.

Other ways you can receive chemotherapy include:

  • Orally in the form of pills or a liquid.
  • By injection into a muscle or below the skin.
  • Topically in the form of a cream applied to your skin.
    By injection into the hepatic artery, which sends blood directly into the liver.
  • By injection into the abdomen.
  • By injection into the subarachnoid space, the fluid-filled space between the thin layers of tissue covering the brain and spinal cord.

Targeted Therapy

Like chemotherapy, targeted therapy attacks cancer cells. However, unlike chemotherapy, it can zero in on cancer cells, protecting healthy cells and reducing side effects.

Targeted therapy is an example of precision medicine that specialists at the Institute tailor specifically for you and your cancer type. It works by using your genes or a tumor’s DNA profile to block the genes or proteins involved in tumor growth. It may be given by pill or IV therapy.

Targeted therapy is typically used with other treatments because cancer cells can become resistant to it. Your care team may suggest targeted therapy in combination with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

You must be a good candidate for this therapy to be effective. In some cases, you need to undergo tests to determine if the tumor will respond to it. Some targeted therapy drugs also have standards set by the Food and Drug Administration that limit how they may be used. For example, you may only be a candidate if other treatments didn’t work.

Immunotherapy

Your immune system normally destroys harmful foreign substances, but it doesn’t always recognize cancer cells as foreign since they are the body’s own mutated cells. Immunotherapy drugs help your immune system fight cancer.

Some types of immunotherapies are targeted therapies that help your immune system find and attack cancer cells directly. Other types of immunotherapies fortify your immune system to help it fight cancer better. Like chemotherapy, these medicines may be given by pill, IV therapy, injection or topical cream.

Types of immunotherapy include:

  • Checkpoint inhibitors. These medicines inhibit the production of proteins that keep the immune system from fighting cancer cells. Doctors at the Institute use checkpoint inhibitors to treat some cases of melanoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, and bladder, kidney and lung cancer.
  • Cytokines. Cytokines are proteins that help regulate and direct the immune system. They can be reproduced in a lab and injected into the body to help the immune system attack cancer cells. This therapy may be recommended for leukemia, lymphoma, melanoma, bladder cancer or kidney cancer.
  • Cancer vaccines. These boost your immune system and protect against certain cancers, including cervical, prostate and bladder cancer.

Angiogenesis Inhibitors

Solid tumors need blood to grow. Angiogenesis inhibitors restrict angiogenesis (new blood vessel growth) to cut off a tumor’s blood supply and disrupt its growth.

Many types of angiogenesis inhibitors are targeted therapies. They may be administered by pill or IV therapy.

Hormone Therapy

Oncologists at the Institute use hormone therapy to treat breast, ovarian, prostate and thyroid cancer. They may also use it to manage your symptoms if you have prostate cancer but cannot undergo surgery or radiation therapy.

Hormone therapy is considered a targeted therapy when used to treat cancer. Some cancerous tumors need hormones to grow. Hormone therapy directly targets these tumors by preventing them from receiving the hormones they need to develop.

Side Effects of Cancer Drugs

Like any medicine, cancer drugs have side effects. The side effects depend on the cancer drug or combination of drugs and vary from patient to patient. Most are temporary and will go away once your treatment has ended.

At Miami Cancer Institute, we provide special supportive therapies through the Cancer Patient Support Center to help you manage any side effects of cancer drugs.

The most common side effects of chemotherapy include:

  • Chemo brain (memory problems, trouble concentrating and other mental symptoms)
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Increased sun sensitivity
  • Blood clots
  • Nausea
  • Numbness or weakness in the hands and feet
  • Pain
  • Temporary hair loss

The most common side effects of targeted therapies include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Elevated liver enzymes
  • Drug-induced hepatitis
  • Blood clots
  • Bleeding problems

Some side effects of immunotherapy include: 

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Weight gain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Diarrhea

Some side effects of angiogenesis inhibitors include:

  • Bleeding problems
  • Blood clots
  • High blood pressure
  • Proteinuria (excessive protein in the urine)
  • A reversible brain disorder called posterior leukoencephalopathy syndrome

The general side effects of hormone therapy include:

  • Hot flashes
  • Low sex drive
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue

Your care team is always available to answer questions about your treatment and help you manage any side affects you experience.

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