What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Pills

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

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From: healthline.com

People commonly associate chemotherapy with intravenous (IV) cancer drugs in a hospital or doctor’s office. This has been the traditional nonsurgical method of treating cancer.

Due to recent advances in cancer treatments, oral chemotherapy pills have become more widely used for many types of cancer. There are a few that are approved for breast cancer, including capecitabine (Xeloda), which is often used to treat metastatic breast cancer.

What are breast cancer chemotherapy pills?

Not all traditional chemotherapy drugs come in an oral form. Many chemotherapy medications, commonly prescribed to fight cancer are available as pills. Of these, capecitabine (Xeloda) is approved in oral form for breast cancer.

Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) is another type of oral chemotherapy that’s included as part of a combined treatment regimen called CMF (cyclophosphamide methotrexate fluorouracil).

Although most commonly administered intravenously for the treatment of breast cancer, methotrexate is another chemotherapy agent that’s available in pill form.

It’s important to know the difference between the various forms of oral medication prescribed to fight breast cancer, says Dr. Hannah Luu, California-based oncologist and CEO and founder of OncoGambit, an online service that creates personalized cancer treatment plans.

She outlines three categories of oral medications cancer patients may take as part of their treatment plan:

  • chemotherapy pills
  • antihormonal pills
  • targeted therapy (precision medicine) pills

Each therapy works differently and serves a different purpose, and not every medication will be right for everyone. Which therapy is right for you will depend on various factors including the type and stage of cancer you’re fighting, and other health considerations.

In addition, many treatments known as “targeted therapies” may be prescribed orally.

Continue reading for an explanation of these medications and how they differ from “oral chemotherapy.”

Capecitabine (Xeloda)

Capecitabine, also known as Xeloda, is a type of chemotherapy often used to treat metastatic breast cancer.

It’s taken orally and is sometimes used alongside targeted therapy, or on its own once your body has stopped responding to other types of therapy. In some cases, it may also be used following radiation therapy.

When you take capecitabine, it’s still in its inactive form. Certain enzymes found in cancer cells then activate the medication and convert it to a compound called 5-fluorouracil, which is able to kill cancer cells by preventing them from dividing.

Like other types of chemotherapy, capecitabine is associated with several possible side effects, including:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • sores in the mouth and throat
  • appetite loss
  • changes in your menstrual cycle
  • dehydration
  • swelling, pain, and redness on the hands or feet, which can progress to blistering or broken skin (also known as hand-foot syndrome)

If you’re taking any blood thinners like warfarin, your doctor may need to monitor and adjust your dosage regularly, as capecitabine could interfere with these medications.

Additionally, capecitabine may not be suitable for everyone, including people who are pregnant and those with severe kidney or liver problems.