Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Chemo Regimen FAQs: AT Chemotherapy

By PJ Hamel, Health Guide Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Q. I’ve just found out I have to have chemotherapy. The doctor said it’s AT. What does that mean, exactly?

A. AT is one of the types of chemotherapy given to women with breast cancer that’s node-positive (i.e., the cancer has spread to one or more lymph nodes). It includes two drugs: doxorubicin (Adriamycin), and Paclitaxel (Taxol) or docetaxel (Taxotere). But you don’t have to remember the names; just the initials, because anyone who needs to know will recognize what the letters stand for.

The “A” part of this AT “chemo cocktail” both blocks DNA production in your cells and inhibits the enzymes responsible for repairing DNA. Cells can’t live without DNA; thus when they’re deprived of it, they die (in fact, some even kill themselves when their DNA is damaged). “A” can’t distinguish between cancer cells and normal cells; but because cancer cells are dividing so rapidly, it has a greater negative effect on them than on your normal cells.

As for “T,” it slows or stops cell division, or keeps enzymes from making the proteins cells need in order to grow. So between both of these drugs, you have some pretty powerful agents working to destroy those cancer cells.

Q. And how long will I be getting AT chemo? Weeks, months…?

A. You’ll probably be getting six injections of “AT.” Since this drug combination is still fairly new, it’s undergoing a lot of experiments concerning the exact frequency of delivery. Your doctor will outline the whole program for you.

Q. And how are the side effects of AT chemo? Pretty bad?

A. Well, there’s a whole range of them. But you may or may not get any or all of them; despite all the studies and statistics in the world, there’s no telling how YOU will react to chemo. Here’s a rundown of possible challenges you may face:

Nausea and vomiting: These can occur–CAN occur–but aren’t nearly as prevalent a side effect as they once were. Usually you’ll be given medication to take directly after your treatment, and this should reduce this nasty symptom to general queasiness, if not eliminate it completely. You may be one of the unfortunate women who gets sick anyway, but take heart; you should start feeling better after about three days.

Hair loss: Sorry. No two ways about it, you’ll lose some or all of your hair. This will probably happen two to four weeks after your first injection. Prepare by deciding on a wig, head gear, or if you’re simply going to “go naked.” It also helps to cut your hair short before it falls out. Somehow, going from short hair to no hair is easier than long hair to bald. And remember: hair loss means ALL of your hair. So you can put away the razor for awhile, your legs and underarms won’t be needing it.

Increased risk of infection: You’ll be losing white blood cells; the drugs will destroy some of them, along with the cancer cells. You’ll be at your most susceptible starting ten days after treatment, and extending to the next treatment. In fact, you’ll get a blood test before each treatment to make sure your white blood cells aren’t TOO depleted, putting you at too great a risk of infection.

By PJ Hamel, Health Guide— Last Modified: 10/22/10, First Published: 07/03/07