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Let's Talk About Cancer Medication

Today we have more ways to treat cancer than ever before. Learn about the meds your doctor might prescribe, their potential side effects, and other must-knows for your treatment journey.

    Our Pro PanelCancer Medication

    We went to some of the nation’s top experts in cancer to bring you the most up-to-date information possible.

    R. Donald Harvey, PharmD

    R. Donald Harvey, PharmDOncology Pharmacist, Professor, Director of the Phase I Clinical Trials Program

    Emory University
    Atlanta, GA
    John Valgus, PharmD

    John Valgus, PharmDHematology/Oncology Clinical Pharmacist Practitioner, Clinical Assistant Professor

    UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy
    Chapel Hill, NC
    Daniel Y. Wang, M.D.

    Daniel Y. Wang, M.D.Medical Oncologist, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Medical Oncology

    Baylor College of Medicine
    Houston, TX

    Frequently Asked QuestionsCancer Medication

    How effective is chemotherapy?

    This question is tricky to answer because chemo is often used alongside other cancer treatments, like radiation therapy and surgery, so it can be tough to parse out data and know which treatment was the most effective—and responsible for good outcomes. Chemo is used in some cancer types, but not others, and use can even vary within one cancer type depending on stage—so its effectiveness can vary, too. It’s best to ask your doctor the effectiveness rate for your particular type of cancer and stage.

    How much does chemotherapy cost?

    This varies too. According to research presented by a doctor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center during the 2016 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting, for breast cancer patients who received chemotherapy drug Herceptin (trastuzuma) therapies, median insurance payments were $160,590, varying by up to $46,936, relative to the most common regimen. According to the research, median out-of-pocket costs were $3,381, with relative differences as much as $912.

    What types of cancer can be treated with immunotherapy?

    This form of targeted therapy isn’t effective in every cancer type and stage. It has been founde effective for melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, kidney cancer, Hodgkin lymphoma, stomach cancer, liver cancer, and head and neck cancer.

    How effective is hormone therapy for cancer?

    Hormone therapy is used to treat and lessen symptoms for breast and prostate cancers. In breast cancer, about 2 out of 3 cases are hormone receptor-positive. The oldest drug on the market for hormone treatment in that cancer type, Tamoxifen, can reduce the risk of breast cancer returning by 40% to 50% in postmenopausal women and 30% to 50% in premenopausal women. It can also reduce the risk of new cancer in a breast by about 50%, and shrink large hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer before surgery. It does come with side effects, some severe, like endometrial cancer and blood cots in the lungs (but the more serious side effects also tend to be rare). You typically take the drug for 5 years, and then switch to another hormonal therapy (aromatase inhibitor) for another 5 years, for a total of 10 years on hormonal therapy for breast cancer.

    Erin L. Boyle

    Erin L. Boyle

    @ErinLBoyle

    Erin L. Boyle, the senior editor at HealthCentral from 2016-2018, is a freelance medical writer and editor.