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Pause in Chemo Treatment?

Posts: 3
Joined: Aug 2006

My sister was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. She underwent Chemo and had some great results... about a 30 percent reduction in the tumor they were measuring. That was after the first two treatments. She did 4 more treatments, but the tumor did not appear to shrink any more (but it didn't grow either!). Now her doctor wants her to stop chemo, wait three months, and get checked again... if it's grown again, they'll start her back on chemo. If not, well, they'll see. I don't understand why they would stop her chemo treatments if they are at least managing the size of her tumors. They say she needs time for her body to heal before starting chemo up again. I know NOTHING about this... is that a normal break in cycle? My sister looks and feels better than she has in months, and she's panicking that if she stops chemo, she'll lose any of the ground she's gaining. Can anyone help me understand this, so I can feel like we're not just sitting around? Thanks.

Plymouthean's picture
Posts: 264
Joined: Jan 2004

Hello. I'm a five year (almost) survivor of nsclc, stage3. I had chemo in cycles of three consecutive days, then three weeks off. I had a total of four cycles. At the same time, I had radiation every day, five days per week, with weekends off, for about eleven weeks. The chemo differs, of course, from case to case, but overall, it does wear on the patient. The patient needs time to recuperate between cycles. I, too, worried that the cancer would grow too fast if the chemo wasn't continuous. I was told that the tumor did not grow at a rapid pace if not treated. But with treatment, it was very slow, if it grew at all. It's a balancing act. Attack the cancer, - beat it up, - then give the patient a rest. Then repeat the cycle. Then comes the cycle in which your sister finds herself. They (doctors)will observe the tumor while she recuperates. They will react in plenty of time to any changes. No one here will tell you that it's easy to be patient, but as your sister progresses through treatment, she will be more comfortable with, and confident in her doctors and her treatment. Learn as much as you can about her cancer and her treatment. Accompany her to doctor's visits and treatments. Ask questions. Be sure that you and she understand the answers. The doctors welcome questions because the better the patient and caregiver understands, the better the patient handles the illness. The more you learn, the higher your comfort level, and the less stress you will feel. Keep us posted, and remember that you and your sister are in our prayers.

ernrol's picture
Posts: 91
Joined: Apr 2006

I had stage IV and I am now cancer free. Do you know if they did a PET scan or a CT scan? After I had 4 cycles of chemo they did a CT scan that showed the tumor was 1.7 cm. They were going to try radiation, but before they did that they did a PET scan and found out that there was no cancer, just scar tissue. I t is normal sometimes to give a break so that your blood count can come back up. Keep a positive and we will put your sister in our prayers.

Posts: 3
Joined: Aug 2006

Thanks so much for the responses. My sister has Stage IV cancer, with lesions on her skull and a tumor in her shoulder, as well as a lesion on her tailbone. She is my hero, though, and has a fantastic sense of humor and a commitment to beating this thing back. I believe she was somewhat demoralized yesterday because she is feeling so darn good she really thought it was going to have reduced to almost nothing. I believe she actually got pretty good news yesterday, that the tumors were stable, two of her three lymph nodes had actually gone back to normal (whatever that means) and one was significantly less inflamed. She just wants so bad to feel like she is actively fighting this, and the break feels like she's giving it a chance to catch up to her. I honestly believe the doctor is doing exactly what he believes the right thing is, but these months will be harder on her than if she was actually going through chemo. Just sitting around waiting for it to start growing again ain't in her nature. Her big question is, what can she be doing during this time to help keep this thing at bay?

She had a PET scan early on, and I believe since then has had CT scans.

I appreciate the prayers, of course. My sister is a strong, stubborn woman and will fight this thing with a vengeance.

Posts: 156
Joined: Aug 2006

Hi Maryb2,

I'm trying to learn from everyone's cancer story as to what the protocol may be with other treatments. Especially with stage 4 NSLC, my interest is even more piqued for inspiration and information.

My mother is scheduled for 6 rounds of Taxol/Carboplatin at a rate of once each week for 6 weeks. Not until the end of the chemo cycle will she be CT scanned.

Your story made me curious that your sister was CT scanned afer only 2 treatments, then at the 6 treatment point. Is that the norm for CT checks that frequently? Anybody can answer.

Like you and your sister, any idle time where nothing has been done or is done causes second guessing. My mother wasn't diagnosed with lung cancer despite the repeated voicing of concerns by the ER doctors of the lung lesions. The pulmonologist, who is supposedly the foremost pulmonologist in the city, didn't seem concerned or have any sense of urgency until a tapping in his office produced concentrated blood in the fluids drawn from her lungs.

Though I can understand his conservative approach in selecting less invasive and less expensive procedures, we do wonder about the 2 weeks lag time when chemo could have been started. (It probably would have taken 2 weeks from initial consultation to scheduling a biopsy to confirm the cancer.) But the oncologist and another health professional believe the delay didn't impact the arresting of the cancer cells.

Still, we, as laypeople, don't like that idle time. It does make sense to allow for the body to recover from the chemo treatments. We've been told that should my mother's blood count be too low, the chemo would have to be suspended until her blood count returns to acceptable levels. That's understandable as chemo is hard on the body. Luckily, my mother has not suffered any noticeable side effects.

"Her big question is, what can she be doing during this time to help keep this thing at bay?"

I don't feel I am an expert about fighting cancer as I'm a newbie to this via my mother. It's great lung cancer survivors such as both Ernies stick around to hold our hands and lead us the way.

If I may, I'd like to give a few suggestions that may or may not be effective. They come from articles and research I've read on the net. Research is often conflicting and because the study subjects are often with mice and not humans, the results aren't exactly transferrable. Nevertheless, I take credibility of the anti-cancer properties of garlic, ginger, green tea, selenium and the cruciferous vegetables. With garlic, I've read the claims that at least 5 cloves a week (I give my mom a clove a day except maybe the day and day after her chemo) may be effective. The garlic need not be raw as long as you chop the garlic and allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes for the sulfur compounds to form.

Vitamin E in the form found in walnuts are supposedly powerful in conjunction with other antioxidants in the fight of cancer. So, I've been feeding my mother walnuts. As walnuts are calorie-rich with the oils and good fats, they also help my mom keep her weight up.

I'm confused with the literature on beta-carotene, as some research has found that beta-carotene supplements (along with vitamin E supplements) seem to increase the risk of lung cancer among smokers. But then, I would read that those with carrots in their regular diet have lower risk of lung cancer.

I'm just as confused about soy. If there is any risk of increasing or aiding lung cancer, I'd just as soon stay away from that particular food despite some research touting its anti-cancer properties. I don't want to risk it.

Someone on this forum took a macrobiotic diet regiment to battle her cancer without chemo. She was cancer free for 5 years, which is amazing. You may want to read her story (sorry I forgot her name...maybe Emily?) for reference while your sister is on sabbatical from medical treatment. The macrobiotic diet certainly won't harm your sister, though the precision seems exacting.

All in all, I'd recommend for your sister to modify her diet to include foods reported to be good against cancer and to exclude those that make one prone to cancer (e.g., red meats, foods with high saturated fats or hydrogenated oils, refined sugar, etc.). Some research have shown those who are physically active and exercise survive cancer better. I don't know if that is a the chicken or the egg dilemma of those who aren't debilitated by cancer can move about more than those succumbing more to it. Regardless, exercise has been touted repeatedly as bolstering one's health and keeping diseases at bay, all things considered.

Another finding you may want to consider is the correlation of vitamin D from sun exposure and better survival rates of lung cancer patients and least rates of cancer incidents.

As I find kinship with all lung cancer patients and their caregivers, I'm pulling for your sister, as I am for my mom. Best of luck and good medicince and diet.

Posts: 3
Joined: Aug 2006

I was probably unclear in what I said, sorry. My siser had 6 chemos, taxol and carboplatin, every three weeks. She was checked after every two, so every six weeks (three times). The first one showed a 28% reduction, the second one they couldn't tell because the dye was screwing with her, and the last one showed it was stable.

I'll pass on your advice to her, thank you. I'll be praying for your Mom as well.

Posts: 156
Joined: Aug 2006


Thanks maryb2 and reinstones1 for your clarifications of the rate or frequency of the therapies of your sister and mother (respectively). It is curious how the frequencies vary among lung cancer patients. I would read of others who have had more frequent treatments (daily, for example). I don't know if it's the strength of the dosages and/or the physical fitness of the patients to tolerate the chemo bombardment. I will say that once a week has been convenient and my mother is tolerating the chemo treatments well.

Without the CT scans, I've been attuned to any improvements in the state of my moher's well-being. For instance, how is her energy level? Is she coughing more or less? Is she losing or gaining weight? How is her appetite? Well, that is line with the symptoms or manifestations of lung cancer on the body, so I look for the severity of those effects.

Have any of you found a correlation with the well-being of the lung cancer patient and the diminishing of the cancer?

reinstones1's picture
Posts: 92
Joined: Feb 2006

Hi-- pauses in chemo are very normal, and standard. My mother has Stage IIIB or IV lung cancer, and had 6 treatments of carboplatin and Taxol from January to May (3 weeks apart). She was supposed to have the summer off (3 months). Unfortunately, some symptoms returned immediately after she stopped chemo, so she did not get her break, and started 2nd line treatment within 3 weeks.

Also, she has a CT scan after every 2-3 treatments-- I don't know if this is "the norm", but her oncologist said this was to keep a close watch on the tumors, and determine if it was necessary to adjust her chemo doses (depending on what the medicine was doing). My Mom's first round of chemo kept her stable-- there was no tumor shrinkage, but there was no growth either.

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