From A(poptosis) to Z(ofran)

Cancer comes with its own tongue-twisting jargon, mostly consisting of long, brain-numbing words coined by drug companies and other lords of modern medicine. I swear, they must let out an evil cackle every time they name a new discovery. Even a dedicated word nerd like me can barely summon the energy to make it through all those syllables.

Here are some examples of of the strange vocabulary cancer patients (and their support people) are  compelled to learn.

APOPTOSIS.The programmed death of cancer cells, this is the intended purpose of all chemotherapy. In short, a VERY good thing.

ANGIOGENESIS. Creation of new blood supply lines, to feed tumors in the case of cancer, a VERY bad thing.

CACHEXIA. Wasting disease sometimes present in advanced cancer patients — loss of appetite, etc. Not a problem for Tad, thank goodness!

CARCINOEMBRYONIC ANTIGEN (CEA). Protein deposited in the blood by cancer cells, which can be measured with a simple blood test. Monitoring CEA is one (admittedly imperfect) way of monitoring cancer activity.

CETUXEMAB. A chemotherapy drug that targets a type of protein (EGFR) present on the surface of colorectal cancer cells. This is part of Tad’s new cocktail. It is sold under the brand name Erbitux, also not a lovely word but it does roll off the tongue a little easier…

5-FLUOROURACIL. Another anti-cancer chemo drug commonly used against colon cancer.

MYELOSUPPRESSION. Suppression of the bone marrow’s production of blood cells and platelets, a virtually universal side effect of chemotherapy, hence the nadir period about a week after treatment when the immune system reaches its lowest point in the cycle.

NEUTROPENIA. Abnormally low level of neutrophils, bacteria-eating white blood cells, another common side effect of chemotherapy that makes patients vulnerable to various infections.

PERIPHERAL NEUROPATHY. A problem with the nervous system also caused by some chemotherapy drugs, which can produce pain, tingling, and numbness, especially in the feet and hands. Tad has been experiencing this for some time and is taking Alpha Lipoic Acid to counteract the effect. If we don’t see improvement soon, he may ask for the pharmaceutical fix.

ZOFRAN, A drug used to treat the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. Hmmm. The same folks make it as make the drugs that make you sick in the first place – now there’s a profitable business model. Tad was glad to have it in the aftermath of his first treatment with the new chemo cocktail. Now they are using a different drug for nausea that is part of his pre-med infusion. It’s brand name is Emend and it targets the brain in a different way than all other anti-nausea meds. Because it’s the first and there are no generics available, the 4 pills Tad takes right after treatments cost our insurance company $800 each. Yes, EIGHT HUNDRED DOLLARS. Now there’s a bitter pill to swallow…

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