The Long-Term Side Effects of Doxorubicin

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Woman's hand with an IV in it (Image: Sukiyashi/iStock/Getty Images)

Doxorubicin is the generic name for the chemotherapy drug Adriamycin (chemocare.com). Doxorubicin is classified as an anthracycline, and it is used to treat breast cancer, bladder cancer, some leukemias, multiple myeloma, ovarian cancer and uterine cancer, among others (chemocare.com). It has the nickname "the red devil" due to its red color.

Side Effects

Doxorubicin causes various side effects, both short-term and long-lasting. Common side effects include lowered white and red blood cell counts, which increase your risk of infection and anemia; loss of appetite; hair loss; and nausea and vomiting. Less common side effects include mouth sores, adverse effects on future fertility, irregular heartbeat; and leukemia, which may develop years after treatment has ended.

Cardiac Toxicity

Doxorubicin can be toxic to the heart and cause heart damage which can appear years after treatment has ended. Because of this toxicity, there is a lifetime maximum dose of doxorubicin. Before you start treatment with this drug, your heart function will be evaluated, and while you are on treatment, your cardiac functioning will be monitored. After treatment had ended, if you have shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat or any swelling in your feet or ankles, call your doctor; these may be signs of injury to your heart.

Chemo Brain

Mental cloudiness after chemotherapy has been referred to as "chemo brain," and some chemotherapy drugs do affect the brain. Symptoms of chemo brain include difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, trouble multi-tasking, slower thought processing, and difficulty finding words at times. While some patients have temporary chemo brain during treatment, other patients have a long-lasting problem with it. According to the American Cancer Society, up to 70 percent of people receiving chemotherapy will experience some symptoms of chemo brain.

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