Silent Chemo Crisis Kills Hundreds Per Year

( – Experts in cancer research are warning that a genetic defect could be causing chemotherapy patients to die from the treatment instead of the disease itself. The complication impacts roughly one in 50 patients and causes a horrible agonizing death as the treatment, which is meant to destroy cancer cells, actually kills healthy cells and organs.

The problem stems from a genetic defect in a particular liver enzyme that metabolizes the drug. If the enzyme isn’t present or the person’s copy doesn’t work well, the drug can accumulate in the body wreaking havoc on healthy tissues and in many cases causing an early death.

Thankfully, there’s a genetic test that can be done by a simple blood draw or cheek swab to determine if the individual will have the problem. Unfortunately, only a handful of doctors order the test prior to administering treatment.

Dr. Steven Offer with the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine pointed out that the treatment is deadly for patients with this particular genetic anomaly. He wants medical authorities to mandate labeling about the possibility on the medications. Dr. Daniel Hertz is with the College of Pharmacy at the University of Michigan and he gave comments to the press wherein he suggested the responsibility lies with the FDA to mandate the testing so that the “drugs are used safely.”

Carol Rosen, 70, suffered nausea, diarrhea, and severe mouth sores after taking her chemotherapy. Her daughter said her mother’s body burned “from the inside out,” before her death in comments to the press. She took capecitabine, which is routinely prescribed to the tune of ~275,000 patients per year. Another drug that can have this same problem is fluorouracil (also called 5FU).

Without a fully functional copy of the enzyme needed to process the drug, one begins to suffer overdose symptoms within days. Dr. Anil Kapoor, 58, died in January 2023 from complications of receiving an intravenous injection of 5FU. Genetic tests afterward confirmed he had a defective copy of the required enzyme.

The FDA approved a drug that can help reverse the effects of chemo overdose in patients with the problem, but it has to be given within days of taking the treatment. Patients are advised to ask their doctor to test them to make sure they’re able to process the treatment.

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