Induction chemotherapy is the initial phase of cancer treatment that aims to destroy as many cancer cells as possible. A person may receive induction chemotherapy before maintenance chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery.
Induction chemotherapy is an intensive cancer treatment that can improve survival rates for certain types of cancer. However, the treatment has links to certain risks and side effects and may not be suitable for everyone.
This article explores induction chemotherapy in more detail and lists the different types of cancer it can help treat. We also describe the potential benefits and risks of induction chemotherapy.
Induction therapy refers to the first-line treatment for a particular disease. The
Induction chemotherapy is the initial chemotherapy a person receives before undergoing additional cancer treatment, such as maintenance chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery. The goal of induction chemotherapy is to destroy as many cancer cells as possible to offer the best possible chance of disease remission.
The length and intensity of induction therapy may vary, depending on several factors, including:
- the cancer type and severity
- the person’s age
- the person’s overall health
Induction treatment may be an appropriate treatment option for people who have cancer with a high risk of spreading.
Doctors may recommend induction chemotherapy for various cancers, including:
Below are some potential benefits of induction chemotherapy according to cancer type.
Acute myeloid leukemia
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is an aggressive form of leukemia that affects white blood cells. The
The goal of induction therapy in AML is to destroy as many leukemia cells as possible. However, the intensity of the treatment depends on the person’s age and overall health.
For example, doctors may suggest an intensive chemotherapy treatment for people below the age of 60 years. This treatment typically involves the chemotherapy agents cytarabine and daunorubicin or idarubicin.
Daunorubicin and idarubicin belong to a class of chemotherapy drugs called anthracyclines, which derive from certain strains of bacteria. These drugs may be unsafe for people with heart problems. If a person has an underlying heart condition, their doctor may recommend a different chemotherapy drug, such as fludarabine or etoposide.
Learn more about AML treatment here.
Head and neck cancers
The researchers also note that inductive chemotherapy with this combination of chemotherapies has similar results in comparison with inductive chemotherapy and radiation therapy. However, the evidence is inconclusive, so researchers cannot make any definite recommendations.
Learn more about head and neck cancer here.
Learn more about esophageal cancer here.
Nasopharyngeal carcinoma refers to cancers of the nasopharynx. This is the area at the top of the throat, behind the nose, and above the roof of the mouth.
A 2019 clinical trial found that a combination of induction chemotherapy and chemoradiation improved overall survival. This was without a recurrence in comparison with chemoradiation alone in people with locally advanced nasopharyngeal carcinoma. This study used the induction chemotherapy agents gemcitabine and cisplatin.
This induction chemotherapy may help improve survival rates and rates of recurrence in people with stage 2 or 3 non-small cell lung cancer.
Learn more about non-small cell lung cancer here.
Some medical professionals use the terms neoadjuvant chemotherapy and induction chemotherapy interchangeably. However, neoadjuvant chemotherapy specifically refers to induction chemotherapy a person receives before surgery. Doctors may recommend this chemotherapy technique to help shrink a tumor so that the subsequent surgical procedure is less extensive.
Learn more about breast cancer here.
Irreversible electroporation ablation (IEA) is a procedure that involves using high-voltage electrical impulses to damage and destroy cancer cells. Doctors may recommend this treatment for individuals with locally advanced pancreatic cancer.
Induction chemotherapy has associations with certain risks and disadvantages. These may vary according to various factors, including:
- cancer type and severity
- induction chemotherapy agents
- induction chemotherapy treatment dosages and regimen
- whether the person receives additional cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy or surgery
- the person’s age and overall health
Some possible risks of induction chemotherapy are below.
People undergoing induction chemotherapy typically receive high doses of one or more chemotherapy drugs in an effort to destroy as many cancerous cells as possible. However, chemotherapy drugs indiscriminately target any type of fast-dividing cell within the body, whether it is cancerous or not. This can result in side effects.
According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), people receiving intensive induction chemotherapy for AML may experience several side effects, including:
- skin rashes
- mouth sores
- hair loss
- bruising or bleeding
- appetite loss
- nausea or vomiting
The above side effects may disappear after a person completes or otherwise stops their treatment.
Tumor lysis syndrome
Tumor lysis syndrome (TLS) is a potential side effect of chemotherapy, particularly high dose induction chemotherapy.
TLS occurs in response to the sudden and widespread destruction of cancer cells. In TLS, the cancer cells break down, releasing their toxic chemicals into the bloodstream at a rate faster than the body is able to clear. This can trigger potentially life threatening electrolyte imbalances and other metabolic issues.
Induction chemotherapy is an intensive treatment. While it can improve survival rates in many cases, it can significantly affect a person’s immediate health and day-to-day life. In turn, this can take a toll on their mental health.
According to the
Induction chemotherapy is a first-line chemotherapy treatment that aims to destroy as many cancer cells as possible within a person’s body. An individual may receive induction chemotherapy before other cancer treatments, such as maintenance chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery.
Induction therapy may form part of the treatment plan for various types of cancer, including AML and cancers of the head and neck, breast, lung, and pancreas. The therapy typically involves a combination of chemotherapy drugs. The types of drugs a person receives will depend on the cancer type and severity as well as the individual’s age and overall health.
Research indicates that induction chemotherapy can improve survival rates in many cases. However, people should be aware of the potential side effects and risks. A person can discuss these with their doctor before undergoing treatment.