R-CHOP, the chemo regiment I’m on

21746916A follower of this blog noticed I’ve mentioned R-CHOP often as being the chemotherapy regiment I’m on. She asked if I could briefly explain what this means as she is about to start R-CHOP chemo herself. The doctor did give her information about R-CHOP, but it was basically just a sheet explaining the many side-effects which are possible. In this post I will try to briefly explain what R-CHOP is.

What is R-CHOP

R-CHOP is a chemotherapy used specifically to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma. R-CHOP actually is actually an acronym for the five drugs that are used together to best battle the lymphoma. Combinations of drugs are often used in chemo. The five drugs which make up R-CHOP are as follows:

  • Rituximab
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Doxorubicin (Hydroxydaunomycin)
  • Vincristine (Oncovin)
  • Prednisone

Explanation of each drug in R-CHOP

Only three of these drugs are actually chemo therapies. One is a targeted therapy drug and another is a steroid. Here is a further breakdown of these five drugs.

Rituximab

Rituximab is not actually considered a chemo drug. Instead it is a type of targeted therapy drug known as a monoclonal antibody. Here is what cancer research UK has to say about this drug:

Monoclonal antibodies target proteins on the surface of cells. Rituximab targets a protein known as CD20. CD20 is found on white blood cells called B cells. It is the B cells that are cancerous in the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Rituximab attaches itself to the B cells and marks them. The cells of the immune system recognize the marked cells and kill them.

It is a pretty cool idea to use the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. Rituximab is given via IV just like the chemo drugs. It is also the drug that makes the first round of chemo last seemingly forever. This drug has a lot of potentially nasty side-effects and the first IV has to be done very slowly to determine if the drug can be safely used for a patient.

Cyclophosphamide

Cyclophosphamide is one of the three chemo drugs. It is classified as a “cytotoxic agent” due to it being toxic to both bad and good cells. This drug is given through the IV.

Doxorubicin (Hydroxydaunomycin)

Doxorubicin is also a chemo drug. This may be prescribed as Adriamycin. It is given through an IV. Cancer patents often know this drug as the “red devil”. I have to agree with this name. The drug is deep red. It looks like a poison to me, but I’ve heard other say it looks very cool. It is also very dangerous if it leaks on the skin or out of a vein. But it is also a very effective chemo drug, so I find the risk worth it.

Vincristine (Oncovin)

Vincristine is the third and final chemo drug in the R-CHOP regiment. It is also given through an IV.

Prednisone

This is actually a steroid, and not a chemo drug at all. Some patients have Prednisolone instead of Prednisone during their R-CHOP treatment. This is taken as a pill instead of through the IV. In fact I take this the day of chemo, and the four days following. While prednisone has anti-inflammatory properties, it is used in this chemo regiment because it can “stimulate programmed cell deaths“.

How often is R-CHOP given

R-CHOP is typically given every three weeks. Each three-week period is called a cycle. I’ve read about two-week cycles, but honestly I can’t imagine being so aggressive with R-CHOP unless it was absolutely necessary. R-CHOP can last up to 8 cycles. In my case I was told I would likely be on R-CHOP for 6 to 8 cycles. As I write this post I am actually preparing for my fourth cycle. Today I should either be half way done or two-thirds of the way done with my chemo treatment. The results of my PET scan will help determine that.

Other thoughts on R-CHOP

I’ve heard of R-CHOP being referred to as a “shotgun approach” due to the mixture of drugs. I don’t think this is an unfair assessment of R-CHOP as a treatment. One of the problems with certain blood cancers, such as some types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), is that they are not curable and can only be pushed into remission. NHL patients often have to wait for their symptoms to be bad enough for treatment. When they finally get that treatment they want it to be as potent as possible to help prevent the need for further treatments any time soon. Personally I am thankful R-CHOP treatment exists. At the same time though I hope new treatment options are created in the future which aren’t so hard on the body. And yes, R-CHOP is very hard on the body.

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