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The Use of Over the Counter Drugs During Chemotherapy

written by: BettyHolt • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 11/1/2010

Chemotherapy drugs are powerful agents which destroy cancer cells. They can react with over the counter medications, prescription drugs, herbs, nutritional supplements, and foods containing caffeine or alcohol. Find out how to avoid the negative effects of over the counter drugs during chemotherapy.

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    Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy Drugs Chemotherapy is a very powerful drug treatment used to treat cancer. It works by attacking rapidly dividing cells. Unfortunately, its action not only destroys rapidly dividing cancer cells, but other fast-producing cells as well. Cells in the mouth, intestines, and hair are also affected by chemotherapy's action. Over 50 different types of chemotherapy are used to cure and control cancer, as well as to ease symptoms of pain or pressure. It is usually administered in a doctor's office or hospital by injection, intravenously, intra-arterially, into the peritoneal cavity, or topically.

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    The Use of Over the Counter Drugs During Chemotherapy

    Many people come to chemotherapy already taking other prescription medications and over the counter drugs. Some people may be also taking herbs or vitamins or following a specific diet due to a pre-existing medical condition. The prevailing advice from the medical community is to bring all the bottles of pills you are taking to the doctor's office to let them be checked for possible drug interactions. Specifically include things like laxatives, allergy and cold medicines, and pain relievers such as ibuprofen and aspirin. The doctor will need to know the name of each medication, why you take it, as well as how much and how often you take it. Even certain herbs and vitamins can alter the way chemotherapy works. The use of any over the counter drugs during chemotherapy needs to be monitored by your physician.

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    An Example of Drug Interactions

    At Drugs.com there is a drug interaction checker. By typing the name of the chemotherapy drug in a box, you can receive a comprehensive list of possible drug interactions with both prescription and non-prescription drugs. Trying the drug "methotrexate", a popular chemotherapy choice for breast, head and neck, skin or lung cancers, also used for rheumatoid arthritis and severe psoriasis, brings up a total of 632 drugs known to interact with methotrexate. Of these, 165 are major interactions, 437 are moderate, and 30 are minor.

    For example, in checking the list one finds these commonly used over the counter drugs on it: acetaminophen, alka-seltzer, ibuprofen, kaopectate, and sinutab. Commonly used presciption drugs like penicillin and percodan also made the list.

    In the food and lifestyle interactions with methotrexate, there are cautions about using it in conjunction with caffeine and alcohol. The following herbs and nutritional supplements were mentioned as possibly problematic: black cohosh, chaparral, comfrey, DHEA, kava, pennyroyal oil, and red yeast rice.

    Though checking online is not a substitute for medical counseling, it is possible to see the vast amount of research that has been done on this subject. At their worst, drug interactions can be fatal. At best, they can interfere with the positive effects of chemotherapy on cancer cells.

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    References:

    http://www.medicinenet.com/chemotherapy/page4.htm

    http://www.medicinenet.com/chemotherapy/article.htm

    http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/chemotherapy-and-you/page2

    http://www.drugs.com/

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    Photo Credit

    Image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chemotherapy_bottles_NCI.jpg

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