What Does The Red Devil Chemo Treatment Do?

Doxorubicin (Adriamycin) is a cytotoxic chemotherapy drug and an antitumor antibiotic in the anthracycline group. This drug is produced for the treatment of a multitude of cancers, including breast and ovarian, leukemia, Hodgkin lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Wilms tumor, neuoroblastoma, and sarcoma. However, it is most commonly used to treat patients with breast cancer.⁠

So let’s start with the most talked about and memorable characteristic of this drug—its color. Doxorubicin is bright red—like very red. Like, any moment the red Kool-aid man will jump through the wall screaming, “Oh Yeah!” It is because of its bright red color that the drug was rightfully nicknamed, the red devil. ⁠

Imagine, you are sitting in a chemo chair and the nurse brings in a giant syringe full of bright red liquid. It is enough to make anyone freak out! Not only is it brought to you in a large syringe, it must be pressed through manually, incredibly slow so as not to cause extravasation. Due to this, most cancer patients opt for a port-a-cath to minimize the risk.⁠

Another reason for its nasty reputation is that it causes horrific side effects. Common side effects (greater than 30%) include nausea and vomiting, low blood counts, loss of appetite, weight changes, mouth sores, and alopecia (hair loss). ⁠

Even though it is not common, doxorubicin, epirubicin, and some other chemotherapy drugs can cause permanent heart damage (called cardiomyopathy). The risk is highest if the drug is used for a long time or in high doses.⁠

American Cancer Society