Specific chemo drugs and side effects
Specific chemo drugs and side effects

This section describes common drugs used in chemotherapy, their uses and their side effects.

 Excerpt of Table of Major Chemotherapy Drugs and Hormones

Printed with permission.  Morra and Potts, CHOICES, 4th edition, Avon Books, 2003, pp. 260-287. 

(Linda B’s editorial:  I think every survivor needs a copy of this book! Great resource)


Name and Use


Common Side Effects


Occasional Side Effects


Aminoglutethimide (Cytrdren, Elitpen).  An aromatase inhibitor used in adrenal and prostate cancers. May be used as medical adrenalectomy in breast cancer. Given as a tablet.


Skin rash with fever, sluggishness and tiredness (usually goes away slowly 4 to 6 weeks after treatment is finished).


Dizziness, swelling of face, weight gain, leg cramps, fever, chills and sore throat, loss of appetite, mild nausea and vomiting, leg cramps.


Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar, Endoxan)  An alkylating agent used in lymphomas and Hodgkin’s disease, myeloma, neuroblastoma, retinoblastoma, sarcomas, Wilms’ tumor, cancers of the ovary, breast, prostate, head and neck, lung, bladder, cervix, stomach and uterus. Given IV or as a tablet.


Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, loss of hair.  (The patient) needs to drink extra liquids to prevent bladder problems. If (the patient) misses a dose, they should not double the next dose, but should talk with one’s doctor.


Blood in urine, pain when urinating, black tarry stools, fever, chills, nasal stuffiness and sore throat, cough and shortness of breath, dizziness, confusion, fast heartbeat, sterility (may be temporary), skin darkening, metallic taste during injection, blurred vision, cataract, second cancers (leukemia, bladder).


Doxorubicin (Adriamycin, Rubex, Adriamycin RDF, PFS or MDV) An antitumor antibiotic used in leukemias, lymphomas, Wilm’s tumor, neuroblastoma, multiple myelomas, sarcomas, cancers of the breast, ovary, bladder, thyroid, stomach, cervix, endometrium, liver, esophagus, head and neck, pancreas, prostate, testes and lung. Given IV.


Nausea and vomiting, red urine (usually lasts one or two days after each dose), hair loss, loss of appetite, heart problems.


Mouth sores, darkening of soles, palms or nails, may reactivate skin reactions from past radiation, fever, chills and sore throat, diarrhea, eye problems, fast or irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, pain in joint, side or stomach, burning pain at injection site.


Fluorouracil (Adrucil, 5-FU, 5-Fluorouracil, Efudex)  An antimetabolite used in cancers of the stomach, colon, rectum, breast, pancreas, bladder, cervix, endometrium, esophagus, head and neck, liver, lung, ovary and skin. Usually given IV, except for skin, where a cream is used.


Nausea, mouth sores, diarrhea, skin darkening (sensitive to sun).


Mouth, tongue or lip sores, hair loss, skin rash or dryness, vomiting, poor muscle coordination, swelling of palms and soles, nail loss or brittle nails, eye irritation, increase of tears, blurred vision, headache, euphoria.


Methotrexate (Folex, Folex PFS, Mexate, Mexate-AQ, Abitrexate, Rheumatrex)  An antimetabolite used in choriocarcinoma, hydatiform mole, multiple myeloma, leukemia, lymphomas, sarcomas, cancers of the breast, head and neck, lung, bladder, brain, cervix, esophagus, kidney, ovary, prostate, stomach and testes. Given IV most commonly, in the muscle, or as a tablet.


Mild nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, mouth sores. (The patient) should not take more or less than the amount prescribed by the doctor. If a dose is missed, the next dose should not be doubled and the physician should be consulted.

(The patient) may need to drink extra liquids to prevent kidney problems.

(The patient) should not take aspirin or other medicine for swelling or pain without first checking with the physician.

When very high doses are given, it is followed by the drug leucovorin calcium to counteract life-threatening side effects (called leucovorin rescue).


Loss of appetite, stomach pain, yellowing of eyes or skin, fever, chills and sore throat, cough, shortness of breath, blood in urine or dark urine, hair thinning, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, drowsiness or confusion, joint pain, skin rash, reddening of skin (sensitive to sun) anemia, flank pain, blurred vision, confusion, seizures.


Tamoxifen (Nolvadex, taxomifen citrate)  An antiestrogen used in breast cancer. Given as a tablet.


Hot flashes, vaginal discharge. (The patient) should not take more or less than the amount prescribed by the physician. If (the patient) misses a dose, she should not take the missed dose at all and should not double the next dose; she should consult with her doctor. (The patient) should use birth control while taking tamoxifen, but she should not take birth control pills since they may change the effects of the tamoxifen. If she should become pregnant while taking tamoxifen, she should consult with her physician immediately.


Vaginal bleeding, dryness or itching, nausea, and vomiting, loss of appetite, irregular menstrual periods, hot flashes, endometriosis, bone and tumor pain, visual changes skin rash and itchiness, dizziness, loss of hair, depression, light-headedness, confusion, fluid retention, headache, anemia, swelling of legs, loss of appetite, blood clots, increased risk of uterine cancer.


Vincristine (Oncovin, Vincasar PFS, leurocristine)  A plant alkaloid used in leukemia, lymphomas, sarcomas, neuroblastoma, Wilms’ tumor, melanoma, multiple myeloma, cancers of the colon, rectum, brain, breast, cervix, ovary, lung and thyroid. Given IV.


Hair loss, numbness or tingling in hands or feet.


Pain in arms, legs, jaw or stomach, pain in testicles, mouth sores, fever, chills and sore throat, severe constipation, metallic taste, hoarseness, agitation, confusion, light-headedness, dizziness, drooping eyelids, jaw or joint pain, blurred or double vision, anemia, stomach cramps.

Common combinations of chemo drugs (cocktails)

Chemotherapy Drug Combinations


cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)+ methotrexate (Folex)+ fluorouracil (5-FU)


cyclophosphamide  (Cytoxan) + doxorubicin (Adriamycin)+ fluorouracil (5-FU)

CA +/- tamoxifen:

cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)+ doxorubicin (Adriamycin) +/- tamoxifen (Nolvaldex)


cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)+ methotrexate (Folex) + fluorouracil (5-FU) + vincristine (Oncovin) + prednisone (Sterecyt)

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