Nicholas Fogelson, MD
Is Lupron Chemotherapy?
I spend a bit of time in various social media circles where endometriosis is discussed, and while there is a ton of good information out there, there are also some misconceptions that are sometimes propagated. Of of the biggest misconceptions I see out there is the idea that Lurpon (leuprolide acetate) is chemotherapy.
People say that Lupron is chemotherapy because a lot of people are concerned about the long term negative side effects of the drug, and because Lupron is used in the treatment of some cancers (prostate cancer being the big one).
But in reality, Lupron is not chemotherapy.
The word chemotherapy is really synonymous with "cytotoxic chemotherapy", meaning drugs that kill dividing cells. These are used in cancer treatment because they preferentially kill fast dividing cells (ie cancer cells) over healthy cells. That said, they also kill healthy cells (though less so), leading to a host of side effects. The most common side effect that people think about with cytotoxic chemotherapy is hair loss. And true enough, in many cases people who take cytotoxic chemo lose all their hair within a few weeks of taking the drugs.
Lupron is not cytotoxic chemotherapy. It is a hormone modulating drug that ultimately drops estrogen and testosterone levels in the body. While this may be useful in some cancers, it is not really chemotherapy. It does not cause hair loss. It does not cause toxicity to the neurologic system (as far as we know). It does not cause bone marrow suppression. What it does do is cause bone loss, and in some people it seems to cause bone pain that is long-standing. It may also be contributive to a host of other system issues.
Because of the issues with Lupron, I really don't use it. It is not good long term solution for endometriosis, because in the end it only has a short term impact on the disease. The side effects, though, may long outlast the beneficial effects, and may in fact be permanent.
That said, in any sense of the word that any doctor uses, Lupron is _not_ chemotherapy.