Cancer chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Unlike radiation and surgery, which are localized treatments, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment, meaning the drugs travel throughout the whole body. This means chemotherapy can reach cancer cells that may have spread, or metastasized, to other areas.

Chemotherapy is rarely used to treat thyroid cancer. It is almost exclusively used when other treatments have failed and may be combined with external radiation therapy .

Chemotherapy Drugs Used for Thyroid Cancer

Chemotherapy drugs used to treat thyroid cancer include the following:

  • Bleomycin (Blenoxane)
  • Dacarbazine (DTIC-Dome)
  • Docetaxel (Taxotere)
  • Doxorubicin (Adriamycin, Rubex)
  • Paclitaxel (Onxol, Taxol)
  • Platinum agents

Effectiveness

Researchers are still trying to determine what the benefit of chemotherapy is for various stages of thyroid cancer and its metastases. In general, surgery is more important, as is radioablation therapy . When thyroid cancer is unresponsive to these types of treatment, however, chemotherapy with or without external radiation therapy may be attempted.

In anaplastic thyroid cancer, a highly aggressive form of thyroid cancer, chemotherapy may improve survival time. Doxorubicin is the most effective single agent in this type of cancer, often combined with radiation treatment.

Adverse Reactions

In general, the elderly and those with liver and kidney diseases are more prone to adverse side effects. Therefore, chemotherapy drugs should be used with caution in these populations.

Chemotherapy can cause a variety of adverse reactions including the following:

  • Bone marrow suppression (with the exception of of bleomycin and vincristine)
  • Infertility
  • Pulmonary toxicity (in particular with bleomycin)
  • Cardiac toxicity (in particular with anthracyclines)
  • Nephrotoxicity (in particular with ciplatin, ifosfamide, and cyclophosphamide)
  • Neurotoxicity (in particular with cisplatin, ifosfamide, and cyclophosphamide)
  • Elevation of uric acid levels
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Diarrhea or bleeding from gut
  • Altered taste or smell
  • Mouth ulcers