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Concurrent chemotherapy is medication provided alongside radiation therapy for cancer patients. Historic cancer treatment protocols often required patients to undergo chemotherapy and radiation separately. Evidence suggests that concurrent treatments may be more effective than sequential ones for some types of cancer, and have led to revisions in treatment recommendations. Patients preparing for cancer treatment can discuss their options with a doctor to determine what is most appropriate for their condition.
In chemotherapy treatments, the medications interfere with some stage of cell division to stop the growth of tumor cells and control the cancer. These can be continued for weeks or months, depending on how well the cancer responds to treatment. Radiation actively destroys cancerous cells to break up tumors. Research on concurrent chemotherapy indicates that the medications may make cells more susceptible to radiation. Taking drugs at the same time as radiation therapy can result in a more positive outcome when compared to patients who take one treatment at a time.
Patients for whom concurrent chemotherapy is recommended may take several chemotherapy drugs, depending on the cancer. They start with induction chemotherapy, which can include high doses in an attempt to hit the cancer as hard as possible. As they continue with the chemotherapy, they start attending radiation sessions. In each session, a technician carefully directs radiation at the tumor site to kill the cells.
One disadvantage of concurrent chemotherapy is that it can be hard on patients. The drugs used to treat cancer are extremely aggressive, and notoriously cause severe side effects like appetite loss and nausea. Radiation can also make patients feel unwell, depending on the location and the dosage. Combining the two can cause increased discomfort, and patients may have trouble with activities like holding still during radiation treatments when their chemotherapy medications are making them feel bad. Options to manage side effects are available to help patients complete treatment.
Cancer care can be highly individualized, depending on the type of cancer, the location, the patient’s medical history, and other factors. Care providers may not always recommend concurrent chemotherapy. If they do not feel it would be necessary or beneficial, they can provide information about other treatments and their reasoning behind rejecting this approach for a given patient. People with questions and concerns can meet with another care provider for a second opinion if they feel like they need more information before they decide on how they want to proceed with treatment.