“Methotrexate” or “Chemo?”

Last night was “Chemo Night.” Or, It’s almost time for my chemo. Or maybe, Chemo really kicked my butt today! These aren’t direct quotes of anybody in particular, but I’m paraphrasing some of the things I sometimes see online from other RA patients. But wait a minute, why are RA patients talking about chemotherapy? They have RA, not cancer.

The “chemo” RA patients are referring to is the drug Methotrexate, which is a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug, or DMARD. It’s used to treat RA, other inflammatory diseases (psoriasis, Crohn’s, lupus), and several types of cancer–such as breast, head and neck, lung, blood, bone, lymph node, and uterus cancers. However the dosing and drug mechanisms of Methotrexate are different for RA compared to cancer treatments. Methotrexate also belongs to a class of drugs known as antimetabolites. It works by slowing or stopping the growth of cancer cells and suppressing the immune system.

So yes, Methotrexate is technically a chemotherapy drug. I find it interesting to observe some RA patients using the word “chemo” either in place of “Methotrexate” or mentioned along with it when talking about their medications and disease. On the other hand, there are some people with RA who don’t use the word “chemo” at all. Why is this? Does it matter?

In a related article, The Power of Chemo, author Mariah notices the unexpected influence and power the word “chemo” has when she uses it to try to help someone understand her RA. She argues that referring to Methotrexate as “chemo” helps people realize just how serious of a disease RA is–as well as other autoimmune diseases. Better understanding of RA in society as well as correcting misconceptions about the disease is gravely needed. There are still way too many people out there who think that arthritis, in all its forms, is “no big deal.” Perhaps pointing out how serious and strong one’s medications are is one way to do this?

Not everyone, however, agrees with throwing around the word “chemo” so freely–especially by people who don’t have cancer. I’ve had conversations with RA friends and some of them find the use of the word “chemo” in this situation incredibly annoying and sometimes even offensive. Why? They don’t think it’s necessary, or they think using the word sometimes sounds a bit braggy or attention-seeking, like “Look at how bad I have it!” Making comparisons between RA and cancer, even if unintentionally, can be dangerous and trigger strong emotions.

Personally, I’m on the fence about this. I can see both sides of the argument and maybe there’s even another side we’re forgetting. Is the Methotrexate vs. chemo debate no big deal? Is using the word “chemo” an effective and positive way to help others without RA understand the disease? Should RA patients use the word “chemo” with other RA friends? Or, is using the word “chemo” an insensitive and potentially offensive behavior? I’m interested to hear your thoughts and experiences!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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